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Originally published June 30, 2010 at 12:04 AM | Page modified June 30, 2010 at 2:25 PM

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Calistoga raises $40 million to fund drug trials

Seattle biotech Calistoga will use a $40 million infusion to fund trials for two drugs targeting lymphoma, leukemia, rheumatoid arthritis and asthma.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The small Seattle biotech company Calistoga Pharmaceuticals has landed $40 million in fresh venture capital to fund its drugs' advance through clinical trials. With the latest infusion, Calistoga has raised nearly $100 million since it was founded in 2006.

Some of the new money will go toward advanced testing of the cancer drug CAL-101, which has advanced on "a very rapid timeline," said Carol Gallagher, CEO of Calistoga Pharmaceuticals.

CAL-101 is designed to treat two forms of lymphoma and one form of leukemia. In prior clinical trials, according to Calistoga, nearly 60 percent of non-Hodgkins lymphoma patients responded to the treatment, as well as almost 70 percent of mantle cell lymphoma patients and 30 percent of leukemia patients. Responses ranged from a tumor shrinking to the cancer going into remission for up to a year.

"We were very fortunate, [there was] a little luck involved," Gallagher said.

One patient had gone through six previous trials, including stem-cell transplant, without much effect. After receiving doses of CAL-101, the patient's cancer went into a nine-month remission.

The drug works by jamming a specific pathway in cancer cells. The pathway — present in all cells — signals the nucleus to grow and multiply. When a cell becomes cancerous, that signaling pathway is overactive, promoting rapid growth and proliferation.

CAL-101 latches onto these cancerous cells, gets inside the membrane and prevents those signals from reaching the nucleus. This limits the cancer cell's growth, and eventually kills it.

Funding will also go toward pushing the drug CAL-263, aimed at treating rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, through the second stage of trials.

Right now it's in the 'proof-of-concept' stage, where doctors determine what type of patient population to target for treatment, Gallagher said.

Calistoga employs 21 people. A lot of them worked for ICOS, the Bothell-based developer of the erectile-dysfunction drug Cialis that was bought out by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly in 2007.

Those experienced employees helped Calistoga move CAL-101 through trials so quickly, Gallagher said.

Jason Bacaj: 206-464-3320 or jbacaj@seattletimes.com

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