HTC Graduate Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Latest Houston Company to Attract Cancer Research Funds

Cancer research funding is continuing to pour into Houston and helping to attract private capital to the region’s biotechnology sector.

The latest recipient of this combination of public and private backing is Houston-based Bellicum Pharmaceuticals, which has raised $20 million in privateequity financing. The additional funding brings Bellicum’s balance sheet to $26 million of committed capital, including a $6.1 award from the CancerPrevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The new private equity investors include AVG Ventures LP, based in Walnut Creek, Calif., and Dallas-based Remeditex Ventures. James Brown of AVGVentures and Dr. Dennis Stone of Remeditex have joined Bellicum’s board of directors.

The company will use the funding to advance two oncology products, both based on Bellicum’s chemical induction of dimerization technology, or CID. CIDis a remote-control technology designed to extend the physician’s reach beyond the point at which a treatment has been administered.

The new funding will be made available to the company in two equal amounts, with one-half, or approximately $10 million, paid immediately. The balanceis slated to be paid upon initiation of the next phase of clinical trials for its two lead products, expected in the third quarter of 2012.

Bellicum is planning to hire several top-level executives within the next couple of weeks, said CEO Tom Farrell, and its payroll will increase close to 20 by the middle of the year.

“This funding is very significant to our company because it takes us through the next phase of development of our drugs,” said Farrell. “We’re about toenter a much more expensive period where we’re able to treat a greater number of patients. As you get further into the clinical trial process, therequirements by the FDA go up and there’s more developmental work that goes on around the product.”

The company’s primary goal is to commercialize the oncology drug.

“It’s not something that’s typical in this industry, but we feel these products can do well in that arena,” he said.

Indeed, Bellicum has advanced two products into midstate development that address significant medical needs, said Stone, chief medical officer ofRemeditex Ventures.

"We believe the company is poised to become an important product innovator, addressing large market diseases in both oncology and immunology,” he said.

In the past two years, the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas has awarded 350 grants worth nearly $571 million to dozens of stateorganizations. Four local institutions garnered $236.8 million of that total.

CPRIT was created by state constitutional amendment in 2007 to promote innovation in the areas of cancer research and prevention. It began awardinggrants to organizations across the state in 2010.

CPRIT officials said that for every $1 CPRIT invests in a company, the company attracts $3.50 from new investors.

“I think the real story here is that we are really seeing our state dollars at work,” said Jacqueline Northcut, CEO of BioHouston. “CPRIT looks overhundreds of companies and only picks the best of the best.

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Author: Tom Farrell
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