Cleave Bio Gets $37M From Celgene, Others For Clinical Push

Celgene has taken an interest in another budding biotech. The big Summit, NJ, drugmaker joined with a group of venture capitalists to give Cleave Biosciences a $37 million Series B round to help pay for the startup’s first human clinical studies.

Burlingame, CA-based Cleave is developing an experimental cancer drug, CB-5083, that is currently in two Phase 1 trials: one for patients with solid tumors, and the other for those with blood cancers. CB-5083 blocks an enzyme called p97, which plays a key role in protein homeostasis, or the ability of cells to properly manufacture or deactivate proteins. When protein homeostasis is thrown out of whack, a range of diseases, including cancer, can result.

This field of research is clearly of interest to Celgene, which has aligned itself with two other companies also developing drugs that impact protein homeostasis in one way or another. In September 2015, Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) invested in San Francisco Bay Area startup Nurix and paid the firm $150 million up front for an option to license future drug programs. Nurix is developing drugs for inflammatory and immunological diseases, and cancer.

Celgene has also been in a partnership with Forma Therapeutics, of Watertown, MA, another company doing protein homeostasis work. The two formed a drug discovery pact in mid-2013, and broadened the relationship the following year. Celgene still has an option to buy Forma outright.

Cleave’s Series B round will fund the development of CB-5083, as well as the company’s efforts to discover new drugs that target the p97 enzyme, the company said in a statement. Nextech Invest and Arcus Ventures also participated in the funding, as did existing investors 5AM Ventures, Clarus Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Orbimed Advisors, U.S. Venture Partners, Astellas Venture Management, and Osage University Partners.

Cleave, founded in 2010, received a $42 million Series A round in 2011. The basis of the company’s science was developed by Raymond Deshaies and Francesco Parlati at Caltech and Seth Cohen at UC San Diego. Laura Shawver is the company’s CEO, and she came to cleave after a stint as an entrepreneur in residence at Cleave investor 5AM Venture. Mark Rolfe, who previously worked at CytomX Therapeutics and Facet Biotech, among other biotechs, is the president and chief science officer.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at dholley@xconomy.com Follow @xconholley

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