Startups

Versant gambles $20 million on a UCSD spinout focused on NASH and fibrosis

Ariel Feldstein

Back in the spring of 2015, Jeffrey Stafford helped set up a deal with Celgene to acquire the drug discovery platform he helped create at San Diego-based Quanticel for up to $485 million, and went along to help shepherd the next stage as an executive at the subsidiary.

Now, he and his former backers at Versant have joined forces again to launch a new preclinical startup focused on the hot R&D field of NASH and fibrosis. And he’s joined by longtime colleague Jim Veal, who is the new CSO at the fledgling Jecure Therapeutics.

Today, they’re having a coming out party for Jecure, which secured a $20 million Series A from Versant, the sole backer at this early stage.

Jeffrey Stafford

This is a translational biotech at this stage of the game, squarely focused on the academic work of Ariel Feldstein, the division chief of gastroenterology at the University of California, San Diego.

“Using animal models and RNAi therapies, we have developed unique cell based assays for high throughput testing in in vivo models,” Feldstein tells me. “We are able to dial up, or down, specific pathways key in NASH progression related to inflammation, which fueled the fibrotic response.”

“We’re putting all these things together at Jecure,” he adds, which is “in a unique position to target the pathogenesis of the disease.”

Jim Veal

Right now, says Stafford, the plan is to get in the clinic two years from now in 2019, looking to eventually leapfrog some major late-stage efforts on NASH and fibrosis that have attracted considerable attention.

“We have a small team of six,” adds Veal. And that includes two leading researchers from Feldstein’s lab with extensive experience in liver disease. The goal is to grow the team in the coming years to 20 or 25, which should be enough to handle three or four research programs.



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