Flexion Therapeutics Gets $33M For Faster, Cheaper Drug Development

Xconomy Boston — 

[Update: 10/16/09, 3:18 pm Eastern] Flexion Therapeutics, the Woburn, MA-based company that seeks to reduce the time and expense of drug development’s risky early steps, has raised $33 million in a Series A venture round, according to a statement. Earlier in the day, we reported the deal was for $20 million, out of a potential round worth $43 million, based on a filing the company submitted to the Securities & Exchange Commission.

The financing was led by Versant Ventures, and included two founding investors, 5AM Ventures and Sofinnova Partners. The government record lists Brad Bolzon and Sam Colella, a pair of partners at Menlo Park, CA-based Versant Ventures, as directors. Rafaele Tordjman, a partner with Sofinnova, is also listed as a director. Flexion’s CEO is Mike Clayman, the former vice president of Eli Lilly’s Research Laboratories, and its chief operating officer is Neil Bodick, the founder of Lilly’s drug development incubator, called Chorus, according to the company’s website.

Flexion is built around the idea of shepherding drugs from the earliest stages of development, where they aren’t worth much, into their initial clinical trials—the first real opportunity for them to prove their worth. It usually takes three to four years and $15 million to $40 million in the pharmaceutical industry to do this, Flexion says, but the startup thinks it can cut that time frame in half, while slashing the costs to as little as $3 million to $5 million. It aims to do this through what it says are novel types of licensing deals with pharmaceutical and biotech partners, and by using “compact experimental design” and maintaining a small team with little overhead costs.

“Companies are forced to make trade-off decisions without clinical data and compounds are often shelved without compelling rationale. Among these compounds are assets of substantial but unrealized medical and commercial value,” the company says on its website. “Flexion is forming partnerships with a small number of pharmaceutical firms; in these partnerships, Flexion provides both the resource and expertise to quickly and efficiently advance delayed or de-resourced assets to clinical proof of concept.”

Flexion has apparently has persuaded a few people in Big Pharma that it is onto something. The company said in today’s statement that it expects to announce “three major partnerships” with pharmaceutical companies.

“We have been overwhelmed by the response from the pharmaceutical industry, which very much wants to partner with the proven team at Flexion,” said Andrew Schwab of 5AM Ventures, in the statement.