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ATyr Pharma Raises $76M Round to Advance Physiocrine Drugs

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego’s aTyr Pharma has gotten all dressed up, but what’s the big occasion?

The biotherapeutics company said yesterday it recently raised $76 million in Series E financing to advance its program in physiocrine-based drugs for treating rare immune diseases. The latest round brings total financing for aTyr (pronounced a-tire) to at least $184 million in the 10 years since the company was founded.

A new investor, Sofinnova Ventures, and an unnamed large institutional biotech investor led the round, which included a number of big crossover investment funds, including T. Rowe Price, Deerfield, and Federated Investors; hedge fund Rock Springs Capital Management; the biotech-focused fund EcoR1 Capital; Sphera Global Healthcare, and two other unnamed institutional investors. Existing venture investors and an unnamed public investment fund also participated.

With all the big institutional and non-traditional investors in a biotech deal, could an IPO be far behind?

In a statement, aTyr said proceeds from the round will be used to support development of the company’s lead drug candidate in an early stage trial for patients with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a genetically based degeneration of muscles of the face, shoulder blades, and upper arms. The company also said some proceeds of the round also would be used to fund “an expansion to additional indications.”

The company specializes in drugs derived from a new class of natural proteins called “physiocrines,” which offer potential therapeutic advantages to existing anti-inflammatory drugs through improved selectivity, efficacy, and reduced side effects. Paul Schimmel, a biochemist at The Scripps Research Institute, helped show that physiocrines are naturally occurring proteins that modulate the body’s immune response. He is a scientific founder of aTyr and serves on the company’s board.

The company said Sofinnova general partner Srinivas Akkaraju also is joining aTyr’s board of directors, and noted Akkaraju has a successful investment record in public companies, including Eyetech Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: EYET), Intercept Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ICPT), Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN), and Synageva BioPharma (NASDAQ: GEVA).

In 2013, aTyr raised $59M in a round that included $49M invested by Alta Partners, Cardinal Partners, Domain Associates, and Polaris Partners, and a $10 million loan from Silicon Valley Bank.