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As of February 2016, Galera Therapeutics, Inc., a drug development company based in Greater Philadelphia, had raised $42 million in Series B financing for the clinical testing of its drug that prevents the painful side effects of mouth or esophageal cancer radiation treatment. Local Robert (Al) Beardsley is a founder and COO at Galera, and still works in St. Louis at the company’s research labs. We asked him about his passion for drug development, Galera’s success with fundraising and why St. Louis is a great place for this industry.
When I graduated from the University of Iowa, oil was the field most Chemical Engineering graduates in the Midwest went into, and so I worked for Mobil for a couple of years. But I was intrigued by the emerging field of Biotech, which was beginning to blossom in the San Francisco Bay and Boston areas. The tremendous promise to help patients and their families really appealed to me, so I left to go get my Ph.D. and a University of Chicago MBA in finance. I realized that the business of developing drugs was multifaceted and I wanted to solve two major problems in the industry: 1. How does a small biotech pay for a drug to be developed? 2. How do you get that drug to the patient?
What does it mean to you to be so successful with the Series B funding for this drug—it can be challenging. What is your secret?
The number one thing is working with great ideas and great people. If I deserve any credit, it’s doing that. Once you have that, you can find the capital to implement your idea. Actually, if you’re successful in the things that you’re doing, a Series B raise can be easier than raising that first money. When raising that first money, there is less demonstration available for what you’re trying to do. In this case, using the Series A monies, our Phase 2a study showed the patients treated with our drug, GC4419, did dramatically better than historically expected on every measurement. So having that data made Series B “easy”.
We are now in a later-stage Phase 2b study in head and neck cancer patients, testing GC4419 versus a placebo in preventing radiation-induced oral mucositis (OM). OM attacks the lining of the patient’s mouth and throat, and may also result in the radiation oncologist suspending treatment to ease this condition. Suspending treatment, however, decreases the odds of controlling the cancer for that patient.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs interested in the drug discovery space?
Be really committed. When you layer in all the challenges, especially early on, people often don’t appreciate how much time raising capital can add to already lengthy drug development timelines; you are looking at a significant portion of your life devoted to it. It’s not like information technology, where within a couple years, Facebook buys you and you can move on to something else. You shouldn’t be doing biotech or pharmaceuticals if you aren’t deeply committed to helping patients.
What has kept you in St. Louis?
The ideas. It’s such an interesting opportunity in that there is science that is every bit the match of what’s going on in Boston and San Francisco. St. Louis is acknowledged as a center of innovation in life sciences and in pharma. Just like celecoxib, one of the biggest drugs ever, Galera’s drugs were invented here. The Ideas that come out of WashU, SLU, and former Pfizer, Mallinckrodt & Monsanto people are every bit as innovative and game changing as on the coasts.