Jeffrey Bluestone recruits a trio of biopharma vets to the startup team at Sonoma — while adding $30M to the launch round

Jeffrey Bluestone’s startup in the Bay Area just added a packet of venture money to its cash reserves. But more importantly, the ex-chief of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy recruited several more experienced vets to the executive team that will drive new drugs to conquer autoimmune diseases like diabetes.

On the money side, Sonoma Therapeutics today announced that its syndicate came up with an extra $30 million for the launch round, bringing the total to $70 million. The cash came from a broad group of investors, led by Rick Klausner’s Lyell and ARCH. Here’s the rest of the crew: 8VC, LifeForce Capital, Lilly Asia Ventures Biosciences, Octagon Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments, the JDRF T1D Fund and additional undisclosed investors.

That will help fund a team that now includes:

— Leonard Dragone, the new chief medical officer. Dragone is coming in from J&J, where he was VP for early clinical development in infectious diseases. Before that, he had been the therapeutic area lead for autoimmunity, inflammation and ophthalmology at Merck and earlier completed a stint at Genentech.

— Sejal Hall joined the company from Audentes, which was recently bought out by Astellas. She steps in as VP, program, portfolio and alliance management, a role she held earlier at Denali.

— AbbVie veteran Susan Lacy is also joining the team as head of discovery. She worked at the pharma giant for the past 20 years.

Bluestone left the helm of PICI and his post at UC San Francisco to start a biotech that will focus on Tregs in halting autoimmune assaults. Now, instead of driving immune responses to vanquish cancer cells, he’ll be hitting the brakes to stop diseases like diabetes.

Bluestone’s prominence in the West Coast biotech scene has earned some high-profile supporters, including Klausner, the executive chairman at Lyell who also chairs the board at Sonoma.

And he’s aiming high. In a recent interview, he told me:

We’ll end up with a cheaper therapy only having to do things once, hopefully, because it’s built on the platform of what evolution has already created: regulatory cells as brakes in the immune system.

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