Metacrine raises $22M to advance liver drug for humans

Metacrine, a San Diego biotech developing drugs for metabolic diseases, said it has raised $22 million from venture capital investors.

The financing will help privately held Metacrine advance its program to treat liver diseases, the company said. It is developing a drug now called MET409 for potential use in a major inflammatory liver disease, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, and other disorders.

Initial human studies of MET409 are planned to begin in the first half of 2018, said Ken Song, M.D., Metacrine’s president and CEO. In addition, the money will help fund research against other targets for liver inflammation and fibrosis.

New investor New Enterprise Associates led the round, along with existing investors ARCH, Polaris, venBio, and Alexandria Venture Investments.

“The financing we just closed on provides support as we develop into a clinical-stage company,” Song said.

Metacrine is also researching a drug to resensitize insulin-resistant patients to insulin, in collaboration with Novo Nordisk. That drug is important because it addresses a root cause of type 2 diabetes, Song said.

The company now has 26 employees, and plans to hire more, especially for clinical development.

Metacrine began operations in 2015, led by a team including investor/entrepreneur/scientist Richard Heyman and Salk Institute researcher Ron Evans. Heyman studied with Evans, and has remained in touch with him over the years.

In August 2015, Metacrine announced it had raised $36 million in venture funding. Song became CEO in September 2016.

Song said he already knew Heyman and the investors. He became available after selling a company he had started, Ariosa Diagnostics, to pharmaceutical giant Roche.

The people around Metacrine and its technology both attracted him, Song said. The company is based around “a proven team” that develops important health care products, he said, and the technology is the best in its class.

“Also, when I joined, the company was still in the research and discovery phase,” Song said. “The opportunity for me as a CEO to shape the overall direction of the company was also very enticing.”

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