Constellation Pharmaceuticals is on a mission to discover the next generation of cancer drugs by tapping the science of “epigenetics.” The Cambridge, MA-based biotech startup said today that a veteran physician and executive has come aboard to helm the effort, and the firm’s investors have handed over $17.2 million to support the cause.
New Constellation CEO Mark Goldsmith, who spent a decade on the faculty at the School of Medicine of the University of California, San Francisco, comes to the startup after a stint as an executive-in-residence at Prospect Venture Partners, a Palo Alto, CA, venture firm. He’s also been a CEO before, for California drug developer Cogentus Pharmaceuticals. Mark Levin, the venture capitalist and former chief executive of Millennium Pharmaceuticals who served as founding CEO of Constellation, is remaining chairman of the biotech. Levin’s Third Rock Ventures, of Boston, was behind the launch of the company and helped the biotech put together a $32 million Series A financing deal last year; the $17.2 million that Constellation has just collected is the third and final installment of that financing, according to a company spokeswoman.
Constellation is focusing on the field of epigenetics, which involves proteins and other molecules that can turn genes on and off without changing the genetic code itself. Epigenetic drugs designed to neutralize specific gene-modifying proteins in cancer cells, for example, could kill the cells by stymieing the genes they need to survive. Epigenetic drugs could also activate certain genes that would otherwise not function properly in a diseased cell. If this sounds familiar, there are other companies in the Boston area such as Cambridge-based Epizyme and Acetylon Pharmaceuticals that are trying to develop new epigenetic drugs as well. Such drugs are believed to have the potential to treat infections, neurological disorders, and a host of other major diseases; Constellation is initially focused on cancer.
“Constellation has made great progress building a powerful product engine and outstanding team,” Levin said in a statement, “and we’re very excited to bring an accomplished physician-scientist with executive leadership experience to the helm at this stage.”
For now, Constellation hasn’t spoken a great deal about the specific types of cancer it plans to treat. We’ll report back on this company after we speak to the new chief executive, Goldsmith, and learn about his plans for the operation.