With $35M Infusion, True North Moves Rare Disease Drug Into Clinic

Xconomy San Francisco — 

True North Therapeutics has raised a $35 million Series B venture round to push its top product, a potential treatment for several rare diseases, through a series of early clinical tests, the company said today.

The South San Francisco, CA-based biotech is developing a treatment for autoimmune diseases, which occur when the body’s own defense system goes haywire, but they’re not well-known disorders like multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Instead, True North is going after rare diseases triggered by a misfiring of part of the complement system, a family of proteins in the innate immune system that help antibodies kill bacteria. In rare cases, the complement proteins can attack the wrong targets—like the body’s own red blood cells—and cause severe, sometimes deadly disease. That’s why something as relatively mild as a bee sting can put someone into anaphylactic shock (named after the anaphylatoxins released when the system is triggered).

OrbiMed Advisors led the round, and its partner Carl Gordon will join the True North board. Previous investors Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, MPM Capital, SR One, and Baxter Ventures (the venture arm of Baxter International (NYSE: BAX) also participated.

Save for Baxter, those previous investors were also backers of iPierian, a biotech that spun out True North in 2013. IPierian and its neurodegeneration program were acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) last year, while True North, led by former iPierian CEO Nancy Stagliano (pictured above)—also a veteran of Millennium Pharmaceuticals and CytomX Therapeutics—corralled a $22 million Series A round last summer. If True North achieves an exit for its investors, it would represent one of the rare double plays in which a biotech platform or research program has generated at least two different chances to cash out.

With the new Series B cash, True North will test its lead compound, TNT009, in a Phase 1 safety study this quarter. If that goes well, the drug will move into Phase 1b tests in patients with several rare disorders, including antibody-mediated rejection of kidney transplant and cold agglutinin disease, in which cold temperatures seem to trigger an antibody attack upon the body’s own red blood cells.

True North will run the Phase 1b tests in parallel, said Stagliano. “We picked these indications because there’s strong evidence the classical complement pathway plays a central role,” she said. “We want to get to these patients as early as possible and evaluate them.”

The Phase 1b tests should wrap up in the first half of 2016, at which point True North will decide which diseases to go after in larger trials. The Series B cash will also help move a second program into clinical trials.

Other drug companies have tackled the complement system, and rare disease specialist Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALXN) of Cheshire, CT, has built its solid foundation upon eculizumab (Soliris), which like True North’s lead compound puts the brakes on the classical pathway, one of three molecular signaling pathways in the complement system.

But True North’s TNT009 blocks a different point earlier in the classical pathway. The company believes its “upstream” target will affect a different set of diseases than antibodies such as eculizumab, which interrupts the disease-causing signals toward the end of the cascade.