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A new Vancouver drug development company developing treatments for rare kidney disorders has raised US$65-million from a trio of American venture capital funds.

Chinook Therapeutics Inc. plans to use the funding from San Francisco Bay-area financiers Versant Ventures and Samsara BioCapital and New York’s Apple Tree Partners to take its first two drugs into clinical trials by 2021, said CEO Eric Dobmeier.

Versant started the firm out of its Vancouver offices in 2018 after realizing there had been few drugs developed for kidney disease in the past 20 years and seeing giants such as Novartis and AstraZeneca build drug-discovery groups in the area. “The space is heating up, and a lot of others are seeing what we see,” said Versant managing director Jerel Davis.

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He said the firm decided to focus on rare ailments in the belief that drugs for smaller populations would take less time to develop and get to market, and yield higher likelihood of success than those aimed at larger groups. About one in 10 Canadians has a chronic kidney disease, according to the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

Mr. Dobmeier said Chinook will build on the work of its scientific advisors who have pioneered new ways to identify kidney treatments, including growing kidney-like “organoids” from stem cells that scientists can use to test drugs for tasks such as eliminating cysts. He declined to say what diseases Chinook would target.

This has been an active year for Canada’s biotechnology sector. Two drug developers – BlueRock Therapeutics and Clementia Pharmaceuticals – were taken over by foreign pharmaceutical firms in deals valuing each company at US$1-billion. Preliminary data from the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association show Canadian life sciences companies raised $586 million over 55 deals in the first half of 2019 – more than in any similar period since 2012.

Canada’s biotech sector has recovered since foreign pharmaceutical giants began downsizing their research operations here early this decade. Drug giants have increasingly partnered with startups who do the risky development work on new drugs. Canada’s depth of research talent has drawn investors to proactively create and fund drug development companies around them to serve that pipeline.

The launch of Chinook is the latest in a string of early successes in Canada for Versant, which also created and incubated BlueRock – one of the more active foreign investors and company-creators in Canada’s resurgent biotech scene – alongside Canadian-based funds including Lumira, Genesy Capital Management, CTI Life Sciences and Business Development Bank of Canada.

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