Avila Therapeutics Hires First CEO Katrine Bosley, Adds $5M from Existing Investors

Xconomy Boston — 

[[Update: information about a company financing was added to this story at 10 a.m today.]]

At some point in the life of a biotech startup, the firm typically needs to strike a deal with a drug company or another deep-pocketed outfit to stay in business. Avila Therapeutics is no exception, and the young Waltham, MA-based biotech startup hired Katrine Bosley, a veteran biotech dealmaker, to be its CEO.

Bosley is the first chief executive at Avila, which is developing drugs designed to form strong, covalent bonds with disease-related proteins. She joins the company as two of its potential drugs, one for resistant strains of hepatitis C virus and the other for immune system malignancies, advance toward initial clinical trials. Her experience in closing major deals for previous biotech employers figures to be key for Avila. In an interview last month, Avila vice president of business development and operations Nagesh Mahanthappa told me that the firm would likely seek a partnership to develop one of its two lead drug candidates.

Meantime, Avila has raised $5 million in a debt and options finacing, which could reach up to $20 million, according to an SEC record the firm filed yesterday. Bosley tells me that the debt financing comes from exisitng investors, and the investors have the option to convert the debt into equity stakes in the company. The funding will be used to continue the firm’s strategy, which includes entering its first drug into human clinical trials next year. The company previously raised $21 million in a Series A round of financing from Polaris Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, Abingworth Management, and Advent Venture Partners.

Bosley, a 15-year biotech industry veteran, started work at Avila this month. She was previously a vice president at Adnexus Therapeutics, where she played a key role in negotiations between the Waltham-based biotech firm and major drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY), initially leading to the two companies’ alliance in early 2007 to co-develop Adnexus’s adnectin drugs for cancer. The deal worked out well enough for Bristol-Myers to begin an acquisition of Adnexus for more than $415 million in September 2007. She left Adnexus in late 2008.

Prior to joining Adnexus in 2004, Bosley spent eight years at biotech powerhouse Biogen Idec (NASDAQ:BIIB). There she was a part of a business development team that closed a deal that enabled Biogen to become the commercial partner with Irish drug firm Elan in 2000, for for the multiple sclerosis drug natalizumab (Tysabri), which is now Biogen’s fastest-growing product. Early in her career she was on the healthcare team at Lexington, MA, venture firm Highland Capital Partners and worked in the regulatory affairs department at Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm Alkermes (NASDAQ:ALKS).

Bosley’s arrival at Avila began in January when she literally bumped into Daniel Lynch, executive chairman of Avila, at The Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, during the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. She and Lynch struck up a conversation about the exciting science at Avila, she says, leading to a meeting with him several weeks later in Massachusetts. There are several familiar faces for her at the startup, including Avila founders and her former Biogen colleagues, Juswinder Singh and Roy Lobb. Also, she is familiar with two of Avila’s venture backers, Polaris Venture Partners and Atlas Venture, both of which were investors in Adnexus.

“I’ve been kicking around the biotech industry for a few years now and you don’t run into something like this very often,” Bosley says. “It’s definitely a privilege to be part of a team like this.”