Startups, BioPharma

Third Rock funnels $45M into Pliant Therapeutics to develop small molecule drugs for fibrosis

It plans to bring its idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis small molecule to the clinic in the next two years.

biotech investing JP Morgan 2016

Third Rock Ventures is making a pricy gander into the space of fibrosis – funneling the full $45 million of a Series A round into the newly formed Pliant Therapeutics. The University of California, San Francisco spinout’s small molecule portfolio has the potential to treat, prevent and even reverse fibrotic disease, CEO Bernard Coulie said in an interview.

Fibrosis stems from the growth of scar tissue in organs – leading to damage and organ failure. The company’s focused on treating a number of fibrotic diseases, focusing on the lung – with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – first. Its IPF product is about two years away from the clinic, Coulie said. IND enabling studies ar eset to begin in 2017.

IPF affects about 200,000 people in the U.S., with some 40,000 people dying each year. In just a few short years following diagnosis, the disease leads to complete respiratory failure – with few effective therapies. In late 2014, two drugs – Ofev and Esbriet – were approved by FDA to treat IPF. Neither work as a cure, but they help reduce scarring in the lungs.

“Our approach is to try and stop the disease – and if possible, reverse it a little,” Coulie said. Pliant’s drugs have shown some success in animal models, but have yet to be confirmed in human trials.

Pliant is also developing treatments for fibrosis of the liver, in the form of NASH and cirrhosis, kidney (renal fibrosis), skin (scleroderma), heart (cardiac fibrosis) and the GI tract (Crohn’s disease).

Pliant is building out a biomarker library for fibrotic disease, to help identify patient cohorts and ultimately zero in on the diseases earlier. It’s also forming a multicenter patient registry – meant to collect clinical and lab data from patients with IPF and other fibrotic disease.