New York-based investment firm Deerfield Management is leading a $40 million Series A funding round for Baltimore's Dracen Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Dracen, a year-old biotechnology company, is developing pharmaceutical technology born out of Johns Hopkins University. The company disclosed its latest equity financing round in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year, but CEO Tom Estok had declined to disclose investors. The SEC filing noted at least nine investors were involved in the round.
Deerfield is committing $36 million of the funding round. Its investment was made to help advance Dracen's platform of anticancer drugs toward clinical trials. The investment firm supports health care-focused ventures. Estok has said he hopes to be in a clinical development stage by 2019.
Dracen is working on technology conceptualized by Barbara Slusher, a professor of neurology at Hopkins, and Dr. Jonathan Powell, a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dracen has entered an exclusive agreement with Hopkins and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague to license the jointly-owned tech and develop proprietary drug candidates.
Dracen is developing a platform of anti-cancer therapies called novel glutamine antagonists. As Estok describes, the therapies work as inhibitors of cancer metabolism, essentially choking out tumors and their normal metabolic function. Targeting cellular metabolism in this way is intended to improve tumors' response to cancer treatment drugs. The platform could also have applications for treating autoimmune disorders, inflammatory disease and central nervous system conditions, such as dementia.
Estok said his company is excited to partner with Deerfield and the funding support will help bring Dracen closer to "an important potential step forward in the treatment of cancer."
"We see great potential for Dracen's approach to deliver improved outcomes for cancer patients and potentially extend the benefits of immunooncology therapies," Jonathan S. Leff, a partner at Deerfield Management, said in a statement.
Deerfield is also involved with a new $65 million joint investment venture with Johns Hopkins. The initiative, called Bluefield Innovations, was designed with the goal advancing medical research coming out of Hopkins that shows strong commercial potential. Deerfield is providing initial funding for the venture over five years.
The Dracen investment was made separate from Bluefield.