Calithera, a UCSF Spinoff, Raises $40M to Develop Cancer Drugs

7/7/10Follow @xconomy

One of the nation’s biggest biotech startup deals of the year just emerged from UC San Francisco. Calithera, a company with roots in the lab of Jim Wells, has raised $40 million to develop new cancer drugs.

The financing was led by Morgenthaler Ventures, and included US Venture Partners, Advanced Ventures, Delphi Ventures, as well as Mission Bay Capital, the seed venture fund managed by QB3.

Calithera is getting started with a license to technology from Wells’s lab to develop drugs that work against uncontrolled cell growth, specifically focused on caspases. These are enzymes involved in the normal cell death process, which cancer cells are able to circumvent. Wells’s lab has discovered several drug candidates that convert caspases from an initial inactive form into enzymes that kill cancer cells, according to a statement from QB3.

“This is one of the largest first rounds of financing in some time,” said Doug Crawford, a managing partner of MBC and QB3′s associate executive director, in an e-mailed statement. “It is a testament to the excitement that we all feel for Jim’s work.”

Wells is a prominent figure in biotech, as a longtime scientist at Genentech and the founder of South San Francisco-based Sunesis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SNSS). Calithera is led by CEO Susan Molineaux, and its chairman is Chris Christoffersen of Morgenthaler Ventures.

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