XyloCor Therapeutics, a Philadelphia gene therapy developer focused on heart disease, said it raised $17 million from investors led by Silicon Valley-based Sofinnova Ventures and by Life Sciences Partners (LSP), of Amsterdam, Munich, and Waltham, Mass.

The money will fund clinical development of a XyloCor treatment that seeks to grow new coronary artery tissue to help patients with severe chest pain (angina) who can’t be treated by surgery.

The drug, known for now as XC001, is designed to help such patients stay active so they don’t become bed-ridden and have a better chance of fighting heart disease and delaying the deterioration of a sedentary life.

XyloCor, formed by a pair of medical doctors who were professors and colleagues at Cornell University’s medical school in New York, in 2016 hired Al Gianchetti, a former GlaxoSmithKline vice president for research who also ran the commercial side of Vanda Pharmaceuticals in the late 2000s, as chief executive.

Gianchetti moved the company to Philadelphia, which, he told me, is “a great area for drug development, based on the talent pool” from his former employer and other drugmakers along the U.S. 202 corridor and at the universities. He is building a team of 20 as he ramps up for clinical testing.

The area is not a venture capital center, but Sofinnova was already an investor in pioneering Philly gene-therapy developer Spark Pharmaceuticals, one of a number of cell and gene therapy companies started by professors at local universities — so XyloCor was in territory familiar to Sofinnova partners, Gianchetti said.

“Financing companies is a challenge. Most don’t get to the point they can move ahead with clinical trials. We’re excited to be moving now to the clinic,” he said.

A Drexel MBA holder who also graduated from the University of Delaware and Penncrest High in Media, Gianchetti said he watched his father, a Center City building manager and leader of the managers' association, die of heart disease, losing strength so that by the end, walking up stairs was a challenge. He said that experience strengthens his interest in bringing treatments for similar patients to market.

XyloCor said in a statement that the FDA has given XC001 its “fast-track” designation as a once-for-life therapy " for the improvement of exercise tolerance in patients with chronic angina that is refractory to standard medical therapy and not amenable to conventional revascularization procedures" such as coronary artery bypass surgery or stent drains.

XyloCor has applied for FDA investigational new-drug status so it can start clinical trials on schedule next year.

A second XyloCor product, a “discovery-stage” treatment dubbed XC002, is designed to regenerate heart tissue in patients who have had heart attacks.

"XyloCor is poised to address serious unmet medical needs in cardiovascular disease,” said co-founder Ronald Crystal, a physician and the Bruce Webster Professor of Internal Medicine and chairman of gene therapy at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, where he also directs the Belfer Gene Therapy Core Facility, in a statement.

XC001 should "stimulate the formation of new coronary blood vessels to serve areas of the heart that are not receiving adequate blood supply, which may allow patients to increase their daily activities and improve their quality of life,” said co-founder Todd Rosengart, also a physician and Crystal’s former Cornell colleague. He is now a professor and surgery department chairman at Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery, Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

XyloCor has added Sofinnova general partner Fouad Azzam, Ph.D., and Sofinnova partner Alan Colowick, M.D., as board members, joining co-founder Rosengart, CEO Gianchetti, and Massachusetts-based serial biotech founder Glenn Batchelder.