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Rechristened Laguna Pharmaceuticals Raises $30M, Moves To San Diego

Xconomy San Diego — 

Laguna Pharmaceuticals, founded in 2006 as a spinout of Cleveland, OH-based drug discovery and testing company ChanTest, has raised $30 million in a Series B round of venture funding and relocated in San Diego.

The company, previously known as ChanRx, also recruited former Amira Pharmaceuticals CEO Bob Baltera as CEO.

Versant Ventures and Frazier Healthcare led the $30-million round, which was joined by existing investor Santé Ventures. The round is expected to fund a late-stage clinical trial of Laguna’s lone drug, a 1,4-dialkylpiperazine derivative (Vanoxerine). The drug is intended to treat atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat estimated to currently affect about 2.3 million Americans.

The company raised $5 million in 2011 from Santé Ventures and ChanTest founder and CEO Arthur “Buzz” Brown. ChanTest began in 1998 to provide testing services to help pharmaceutical and biotech companies assess cardiac risk early in the process of drug development. Boston’s Charles River Laboratories acquired ChanTest for $54 million at the end of October.

While several drugs are currently available for treating heart arrhythmias, Laguna says current drug options are limited by poor efficacy and toxicity. In results from a mid-stage trial reported in late 2013, the company said 76 percent of the patients given the highest oral dose (400 mg) of Vanoxerine converted to a normal heart rhythm within 8 hours, and 84 percent converted within 24 hours—a rate approaching that of the electrical shock treatment known as direct current cardioversion.

In Baltera, Laguna gets a veteran CEO. The job at Laguna is his first CEO position since 2011, when he led the sale of Amira to Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) for $325 million in cash, with an additional $150 million tied to meeting certain development milestones.

At the time, Amira’s lead drug was a compound targeting pulmonary fibrosis, which Amira had advanced only through early stage clinical trials. Baltera successfully exempted two other drug candidates from the BMS deal, and a new company called Panmira Pharmaceuticals was established to advance development of those compounds.

Baltera will be joining Laguna’s co-founder and chief medical officer, Howard Dittrich, who worked previously at NovaCardia and other cardiovascular companies.

“This is about commercialization, it’s not about proof of concept,” Baltera told me in a recent phone interview. Laguna “is going to be a lean, mean, product development and commercialization machine.”