San Diego biotech lands $120M to launch a slate of trials in neurosensory disorders
Days after adding some finance, dealmaking and technical talent to the top team, Escient Pharma has taken the wraps off a $120 million round to go broader in the clinic.
New Enterprise Associates, Abingworth and Forge Life Science Partners co-led the Series C. Escient did not return a request for comment.
The San Diego biotech has been turning a new page. At the beginning of the year, co-founder Alain Baron stepped down from the CEO post, making room for Joshua Grass — who brought on a trio of new execs earlier this month: Aaron Mishel, CFO; David Houck, VP of chemistry, manufacturing & controls; and Greg Balani, director of business development.
As he announced their appointments, Grass noted that Escient plans to start five more clinical trials in 2023.
Escient’s specialty lies in what it calls neurosensory-inflammatory disorders, or chronic diseases that result from an excessive response to external stimuli, with symptoms ranging from itch to allergy to pain. By hitting a class of cell surface receptors known as Mas-related G-protein coupled receptors, or MRGPRs — which are expressed on sensory neurons and immune cells — the company hopes to break the vicious cycle of neuro-immune overreaction and inflammation.
Specifically, the team is starting with two small molecule candidates. EP262 is an MRGPRX2 antagonist that will be tested in chronic spontaneous urticaria, chronic inducible urticaria and atopic dermatitis; EP547, an MRGPRX4 antagonist, has already completed a healthy volunteers trial and is being tested for uremic pruritus, thanks to its $77.5 million Series B two years ago. Escient hopes to start another proof-of-concept study in cholestatic pruritus.
In addition to helping patients reduce the itching sensation, Grass noted that Escient is hoping its drugs can avoid “the serious side effects observed with other approaches.”
Joining the syndicate for this round are Avego, PFM Health Sciences and The Eleven Fund. Existing investors include The Column Group, 5AM Ventures, Redmile Group, Cowen Healthcare Investments, Sanofi Ventures, Osage University Partners, and Altitude Life Science Ventures.