SEATTLE—When newly formed Calistoga Pharmaceuticals announced it had successfully closed a Series A venture round of $21 million, Michael Gallatin, the company's president, wrapped up an interesting venture of his own. Formerly a senior member of the scientific management staff at ICOS Corp., from which Calistoga was recently spun out by Frazier Healthcare Ventures, Gallatin left ICOS about two years ago to, as he says, "retire and coach little league." A friend of Frazier Healthcare's general partner Alan Frazier—they are neighbors on Seattle's Mercer Island —Gallatin later joined the company as a venture partner and, of course, brought his knowledge of ICOS' discovery program with him.
Meanwhile ICOS was on a course that would eventually see the company absorbed by Eli Lilly. ICOS, maker of the hot-performing impotence drug Cialis, was acquired by Lilly, its longtime marketing partner, in January 2007 in a $34 per share, $2.3 billion deal.
Dr. Gallatin joined ICOS in 1990 where his responsibilities included supervision of discovery, preclinical research, medicinal chemistry and process chemistry groups, including those involved in the worldwide registration and launch of Cialis. Prior to joining ICOS, he served on the faculty at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.
Terms of the spin out of Calistoga Pharmaceuticals have not been disclosed, although royalties and milestones are involved to compensate ICOS for the five years of research spent developing the technology that Calistoga will focus on initially—and exclusively according to Gallatin. The entity is a target known as p110 delta, which is an isoform of PI3 kinase, an important class of signaling targets in cancer and inflammatory cells.
The company is currently conducting IND enabling studies of drug candidates against this target. With the Series A funding in hand, Gallatin believes they will be in the clinic within 18 months. Although specifics are not being revealed at this time, Gallatin does suggest that key potentials exist in hemolytic malignancies as well as a range of inflammatory diseases.
"Selective targeting of p110 delta has significant potential to demonstrate therapeutic benefits in multiple oncology applications, as well as inflammatory indications such as asthma and autoimmune disorders," adds Dr. James Topper, a general partner at Frazier Healthcare Ventures, and executive chairman of Calistoga's board of directors.
In addition to Frazier Healthcare's lead role, other investors in the new company are Alta Partners, of San Francisco; Three Arch Partners, of Portola Valley, Calif.; and Amgen Ventures, of San Diego. Joining Gallatin on staff at Calistoga are Neill Giese, formerly of Structural Genomics, who will be chief scientific officer, and Roger Ulrich, a 23-year drug discovery and development veteran with Merck-Rosetta and Abbott Labs, who will be chief development officer.