Faheem Hasnain ups cash haul to $330M for a fledgling biotech that is moving ‘at light speed’

Just six months ago, Faheem Hasnain rolled out his latest biotech venture with a $100 million mega-round for seed money. Today, he’s adding $230 million more for Gossamer Bio from a global syndicate of heavyweight investors that is betting big that the ex-Receptos chief and his team can birth a major new company virtually overnight by biotech standards, with a pipeline that already includes 4 drugs, more therapies coming and an employee roster slated to hit 100 by the end of this year.

And yes, there’s an IPO out there somewhere along the way, he says, when the stars align.

“We just started in January,” Hasnain told me over the weekend, “and we’ve been going at light speed.”

Sheila Gujrathi

Starting with a handful of key players from his Receptos days, Hasnain’s Gossamer has already grown to 60 staffers, he adds, with plans to leap to about 100 by the end of the year. Next year he expects the pipeline to swell to 5 to 6 mid-stage programs, each ensconced in its own subsidiary to allow for one-on-one dealmaking discussions, as they might arise.

Hasnain has one of the most impressive resumes in biotech, having sold Receptos and its star drug ozanimod — still a blockbuster contender at Celgene, though one held up by a snafu with the NDA — for $7.2 billion. And he has one of the best connected syndicates in the book ready to back his company-creation plan. 

China’s influential Hillhouse Capital led the round, with help from the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Invus, The Baupost Group and Polaris Partners. Gossamer Bio’s existing investors, Arch Venture Partners and Omega Funds, stepped back up, with Arch’s Bob Nelsen demonstrating once again his appetite for going big, fast with other investors who have the same approach.

This is not your typical startup. 

Hasnain joins a select group of players like Arie Belldegrun or some of the new China execs who are bypassing the slow and methodical art of company creation around 1 or 2 key drugs. Backed with hundreds of millions of dollars, they are looking for virtual overnight success in creating influential development efforts. And given the failure rate in drug development, they face a daunting task with tough odds.

Bob Nelsen

It’s a new world for highly successful teams, though, adding Chinese investors to syndicates and going big early. I asked Hasnain if he could have done something like this 5 years ago.

“Five years ago was when we took Receptos public,” says Hasnain. “We were in the early wave of going public. So sentiment is one (difference). Sentiment is definitely much more optimistic today.”

Indeed it is.

Hasnain is stepping up to the executive chairman’s spot with the B round, while his longtime colleague Sheila Gujrathi takes the CEO’s job. His job now is to do the broad strategic thinking, while allowing Gujrathi to move up and open a new chapter in her career.

It’s time, he says.

The two of them have been playing the lead role in snapping up new drugs for the pipeline. 

“I can’t disclose all the targets,” says Hasnain, who wants to retain some cover for the pipeline for a few months longer. “We do have 3 clinical-stage programs in the company and one preclinical.”

One of those deals is public. Hasnain and his team in-licensed a drug called KB-4924 (now GB004) from Aerpio Pharmaceuticals. They paid $20 million in cash and put $400 million on the table in milestones for an investigational hypoxia-inducible factor-1 alpha (HIF-1 alpha) stabilizer in development for IBD.

A few days ago Gossamer bagged another drug for a “large autoimmune indication,” which is entering Phase II with “some substantial validation around the target” which he thinks gives it the kind of pipeline-in-a-product potential he saw in ozanimod. That one is staying under wraps for now.

Hasnain’s plans for this company stretch well past the first $330 million in. He’s already talking about filing an IPO when the time is right.

“Going public is definitely in our sights,” he says.

Faheem Hasnain. GOSSAMER BIO

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