Erasca, a biotech company with a bold goal of “erasing cancer,” showed some of that determination when it recently completed a $200 million Series B funding round under less than ideal conditions.
“We were up in the Bay Area for the launch of our roadshow on March 9,” said Erasca co-founder CEO and Chairman Jonathan Lim. “The (stock) market had the first of four circuit breakers making the prospect of closing a deal tenuous at times. After two days in the Bay Area, we were about to fly to New York City. I remember being on the streets of San Francisco making a call to cancel that trip and switch to a virtual roadshow. We flew back to San Diego and converted the rest of the transaction to a virtual roadshow,
“We finished all of our meetings in next couple of weeks and ended up closing the transaction within 46 days of launching the roadshow on March 9. We could not have done that without having strong, well informed existing shareholders like Arch Venture Partners and Cormorant Asset Management already up to speed and excited about the company we are building, they wanted to step up and make this deal. That certainly was a key success factor for how we were able to raise so much money in tight time frame. We were also blessed to have identified new shareholders who were excited about our robust pipeline and embraced our mission,” Lim said.
Erasca previously had raised $64 million in a Series A round, so in the last 16 months the company had raised $264 million. Lim said the Series B financing provides the company with capital to drive multiple promising oncology programs into the clinic.
The Series B round was co-led by Arch Venture Partners and Cormorant Asset Management. New investors participating include Singapore –based EDBI, Invus, Terra Magnum Capital Partners and other private and strategic investors. Existing investors City Hill Ventures, Colt Ventures and LifeSci Venture Partners also participated meaningfully in the round, according to the company.
“We are honored by the magnitude of support from such an impressive syndicate of investors, especially during these turbulent times,” Lim said. “Unfortunately millions of people still suffer from cancer daily. At Erasca, we are doing everything we can to help these patients live longer and healthier lives by taking an aggressive long-term approach to tackling this disease with leading-edge science and world-class talent. We are immensely grateful to have new and existing shareholder who embrace our mission to erase cancer.”
Lim said the investors clearly see our strong commitment to the goal of erasing cancer which sadly doesn’t take a break because of a global pandemic.
Kristina Burow, managing director at Arch Venture Partners praised Erasca’s portfolio. “Cancer is a formidable disease,” Burow said. “…Erasca’s team has built an impressive portfolio of potentially first-in-class and best-in-class assets, including successful in-licensing of several key programs to address significant unmet needs.”
Cormorant Asset Management Portfolio Manager Bihua Chen applauds Erasca’s pace. “I have been impressed by how much progress the Erasca team has made since commencing operations just 18 months ago,” Chen said. “I am confident that this team, now armed with an expanded portfolio and a bolstered balance sheet, will continue to execute on the pipeline and develop novel and impactful therapies for patients.”
As for the reputation for boldness, Lim sees that cultivated on several levels. “We hire people, recruit people to the leadership team and the broader team and also to the board of directors and our various advisory groups including SAB and R&D advisory boards of like-minded people who really embrace that bold mission and want to do everything they can to help patients with cancer live longer healthier lives. It really is a culture, a fit,” Lim said.
As for the drug development, Lim said he still believes in the primacy of human ingenuity of biologists, chemists and other scientists. The company does augment its efforts with tools such as Erasca’s AI platform OPRA (Oncology Pattern Recognition Algorithm).
“OPRA is an enabler, it consists of computational biology and computational chemistry that helps us evaluate various targets,” Lim said. “We use the structure based drug design which was really pioneered by a San Diego-based company its early origins of SBDD were at Agouron. Dave Matthews who is on our R&D Advisory Board was one of the early pioneers of structure based drug design that is really the core of our platform. Then we supplement it with OPRA.
Lim said Erasca’s plan is to commercialize its drugs in the U.S. Outside of the U.S, Lim said the company was open to potential collaboration.
San Diego Scene
Asked about the San Diego pharma scene, Lim has plenty of praise. We have everything we need in San Diego. “The talent is world-class,” Lim said. “We’ve assembled a critical mass of outstanding talent to execute on our development plan. As we scale up, as far as discovery and development talent, we really have world–class individuals here. I think we have less of a density of commercial talent so we will be looking to bring some into San Diego region but also have a more of a distributive model where it is not wholly San Diego based, where we might have other offices with commercial talents.
Lim seemed to value being a private company. The company has no plans to go public. “By staying private, it spares us the spotlight of daily market volatility,” Lim said. “So we can continue to build the company in a way that maximizes our ability to benefit patients. We can consider going public when time is right for our company and investors, but we are going to be patient about that.”
Lim said the company has multiple programs targeting undisclosed biological drivers of cancer.
“Our strategy is to supplement in-house efforts with external innovation through strategic relationships that pursue novel as well as validated mechanisms for precision oncology,” Lim said. “So this Series B financing provides us with sufficient capital to drive multiple promising oncology programs into the clinic and further advance our in-house drug discovery pipeline.”