With Backing From MPM and Kleiner Perkins, EpiZyme Aims to Turn Genes On and Off

MPM Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers see a big idea for medicine emerging from the science of epigenetics. The two venture firms are building a startup, called EpiZyme, to take advantage of research that looks at how genes can be turned on or off without any alteration to the underlying sequence.

I got the inside scoop this week on a visit to MPM Capital’s offices on the 54th floor of the John Hancock Tower in Boston (one of the few places in town where you can look down on the Prudential Tower.)

The company is still mostly in stealth mode, but here’s what I gathered, from EpiZyme’s founding CEO, Kazumi Shiosaki (who’s also a managing director at MPM, and a former senior vice president of scientific development at Millennium Pharmaceuticals): EpiZyme got its start about a year ago after hearing input about the new big things in biology at a retreat of the MPM scientific advisory board, a group that includes Nobel Laureate H. Robert Horvitz of MIT, Stanford University stem cell biologist Irving Weissman, and George Daley, a professor at Harvard Medical School. Since then, EpiZyme has hired a “dynamic duo” of executives from two big drugmakers, Shiosaki says, though the company’s not yet naming names. The company’s scientific advisory board has one Nobel Laureate and a “strong IP foundation” with a license from a leading academic lab, she says.

Yesterday EpiZyme launched its website, www.epizymebio.com, which delivers a flashy introduction to epigenetics, complete with Madison Avenue-style taglines like “DNA and genetics are just the beginning,” and “Identical genes, striking differences: Profound implications for medicine.” But the company isn’t yet disclosing any real details about how its technology is supposed to work, the amount of funding it has raised, what diseases it’s pursuing, or what sets it apart from others in the field, like Cambridge, MA-based Constellation Pharmaceuticals. More of those details will be made public by the end of this year, Shiosaki says.

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