Genocea Biosciences Raises $35M from J&J and Others for Vaccines Business

1/3/11

[Updated. 5:15 Eastern time, 01/03/11. See editor's note.] Genocea Biosciences has found some new investors as well as new executives. The Cambridge, MA-based vaccine discovery and development firm has raised $35 million in a Series B funding round, according to a press release. And the company has recently seen some changes in its top executive positions.

The new financing round will help the Harvard spinout to fund development of its lead vaccine for herpes, which is now in preclinical development. New backers in the deal include Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation, MP Healthcare Venture Management, and Skyline Ventures, according to the press release. They join Genocea’s previous venture benefactors Auriga Partners, Cycad Group, Lux Capital Management, Morningside Ventures, Polaris Venture Partners, and SR One. SR One, a venture unit of drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, led Genocea’s $23 million Series A round in February 2009. The firm says it has now raised $61 million.

A Genocea representative says that Staph Bakali, a biotech and vaccine industry veteran, ended his tenure as the firm’s CEO in September, and is serving on the board of directors. Genocea has also added Seth Hetherington, a former senior vice president of the Research Triangle Park, NC-based biotech Icagen (NASDAQ:ICGN), as its chief medical officer. Hetherington is also a former employee of Glaxo. (Editor’s note: This story originally cited outdated information form Genocea’s website this morning that said Russell Greig was serving as the firm’s acting CEO. He is no longer acting CEO, the company says.)

In these lean times for biotech startups, Genocea has managed to generate a lot of investments without having a drug in human testing. The firm has turned many heads in the drug industry with its technology for rapid development of vaccine candidates. Vaccines have been enjoying an upswing in recent years because of global demand for staples of the business such as flu vaccine as well as sales of newer products like Whitehouse Station, NJ-based drug powerhouse Merck’s (NYSE:MRK) human papillomavirus vaccine Gardasil. In 2009, preventive vaccine sales reached $22.1 billion, according to the research firm Kalorama Information.

My colleague Luke Timmerman has written in greater depth on Genocea’s vaccine antigen discovery technology, which has generated potential vaccines for herpes, malaria, chlamydia, and other diseases.

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