First Tenant Moves into New Biogen Idec Incubator, Snares First Funding

Escoublac, the Columbia University Medical Center spinoff company named last month as the first investment of the recently formed Biogen Idec Innovation Incubator, has moved to Cambridge, MA, and secured $6.65 million in funding from Biogen. The funding is one tranche in a Series A round that could total $10 million based on its scientific progress, according to Rainer Fuchs, the Biogen VP in charge of the incubator.

Escoublac, which moved into its Cambridge space on January 2, is focused on turning Columbia Medical Center discoveries into treatments for diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders. Fuchs says the firm was formed around the surprising discovery of Escoublac founder and Columbia geneticist Gerard Karsenty that the protein osteocalcin, which is produced by bone cells, acts as a hormone that increases insulin production and sensitivity and regulates fat storage in the body. Fuchs says that it could theoretically be used to treat both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, and perhaps even obesity. “Certainly we can make fat mice shrink—the question is, does it translate to humans?” he says.

Under Biogen’s incubator model, the Cambridge biotech will invest up to $10 million for no more than a 50 percent equity stake in the firms it incubates. It will also supply the startups with lab and office space, equipment, business and financial assistance, and advice from Biogen’s researchers. In contrast to traditional venture deals, the ultimate goal for Biogen isn’t a big exit via an IPO or acquisition—it’s finding new ways to bring promising new drug candidates into Biogen’s pipeline.

Fuchs says that Escoublac is “a great example of what we were looking for” at the incubator. The company, he says, offers ground-breaking basic discoveries, backed by hard data, and a principal researcher who wants to stick around to be involved in the commercialization of his work. The startup’s focus on osteocalcin also meshes well with Biogen’s expertise in proteins, he says.

It all sounds great, but why call the enterprise Escoublac? Fuchs says that it is the name of a village in northwestern France where Karsenty has been vacationing for a number of years. Now that the researcher is devoting 15 to 20 percent of his time to his new company, we’re thinking the startup might be the only Escoublac he visits for a while.

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