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Johns Hopkins-born pharma company raising $40.5 million, hunting for lab space

The Baltimore Business Journal

January 29, 2018


A Baltimore biotechnology company is raising up to $40.5 million and working to develop pharmaceutical technology born out of Johns Hopkins University.

Dracen Pharmaceuticals Inc. is working to develop technologies conceptualized by Barbara Slusher, a professor of neurology, and Dr. Jonathan Powell, a professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Dracen has entered an exclusive agreement with Hopkins and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry in Prague to license the jointly-owned tech and develop proprietary drug candidates.

CEO Tom Estok said the company formed about a year ago and is currently searching for office and lab space in Baltimore. According to a recent filing with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Dracen is also raising up to $40.5 million in equity financing. Estok said he was not yet ready to talk about the fundraise or announce investors. The SEC filing notes at least nine investors were involved in the round.

Dracen is developing a platform of anticancer therapies called novel glutamine antagonists. As Estok describes, these therapies work as inhibitors of cancer metabolism, essentially choking out tumors and their normal metabolic function. Targeting cellular metabolism in this way is intended to improve tumors' response to cancer treatment drugs. The platform could also have applications for treating autoimmune disorders, inflammatory disease and central nervous system conditions, such as dementia.