Biotech Startup Acetylon Pharma Catches $7.25M in A Round from Backers Such As New England Patriots Owner

Xconomy Boston — 

[Correction appended—08/11/09]

Acetylon Pharmaceuticals is unveiling its technology today after closing a $7.25 million Series A round of financing to develop novel drugs to treat multiple myeloma and rheumatoid arthritis, according to the company. Many of the startup’s backers have close ties to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston—including the company that owns the NFL’s New England Patriots, Acetylon president and CEO Walter Ogier tells Xconomy.

The biotech startup is researching drugs designed to block a specific enzyme involved in cancer and many other diseases, based on discoveries by scientists affiliated with Dana-Farber and Harvard University. The firm has drummed up investments from an interesting mix, including Acetylon co-founder and chairman Mark Cohen, a technology entrepreneur who serves on the board of Dana-Farber, and the Kraft Group, the Foxborough, MA, holding company founded by Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is also a major supporter of Dana-Farber, according to Ogier.

Acetylon was formed last year to develop drugs that target one among a class of enzymes known as HDACs (short for histone deacetylases), which are involved in regulating the expression of certain genes in most types of cells. Interfering with these enzymes can interfere with gene expression, making them popular targets among pharma and biotech companies developing drugs to treat cancer and other diseases. In fact, the leading HDAC inhibitor drug on the market is Whitehouse Station, NJ-based drug giant Merck’s (NYSE:MRK) vorinostat (Zolinza) for treating the immune system cancer called lymphoma.

The problem with many HDAC inhibitors is that they can disrupt the function of healthy cells, causing side effects such as vomiting, fatigue, and even heart attacks, said Acetylon’s Ogier, who has joined the company as its first and only employee. Acetylon aims to avoid such side effects by developing drugs that home in on one specific enzyme known as HDAC6, as opposed to earlier drugs in this class that inhibit the function of many of the 18 known enzymes of this type.

“This is an interesting company because we have some new … Next Page »

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