Lycera, a Midwestern Biotech Star, Moves Head Office to Boston, Hires Biogen Vet as CEO

Xconomy Boston — 

One of the hot biotech startups from the Midwest is setting up shop in Boston. Lycera, the Ann Arbor, MI-based company with a novel idea for attacking autoimmune diseases, has decided to move its headquarters to Cambridge, MA and is naming a young management talent as CEO.

Lycera is announcing today it has hired Bill Sibold, the former senior vice president of U.S. commercial business at Biogen, to be its new CEO. Sibold, 43, is taking over at a company that made waves last year when it closed a Series A venture round worth $36 million from InterWest Partners, Arch Venture Partners, Clarus Ventures, and EDF Ventures.

The company was founded in 2006 to build on research from the University of Michigan laboratory of Gary Glick. He looked at the landscape of treatments for people with autoimmune disorders—conditions in which the immune system goes haywire and attacks healthy tissues—and saw room for improvement. A number of biotech drugs are effective against these disorders, such as Amgen’s etanercept (Enbrel) and Roche and Biogen Idec’s rituximab (Rituxan), but they and other drugs like them have the drawback of requiring injections and disabling some of a patient’s immune defenses, potentially making the patient vulnerable to infections. The concept at Lycera is to pursue different targets on cells, which make it possible to tamp down the autoimmune activity, without making people vulnerable to infection.

The market potential of any drug that really works for autoimmune diseases is enormous. About 80 diseases fall into this class, with names like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis. The conditions collectively affect an estimated one out of every 12 people in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health. Rheumatoid arthritis alone is now a $10 billion a year market dominated by companies like Amgen, Johnson & Johnson, and Abbott Laboratories.

Bill Sibold

Bill Sibold

“Even though this is at an early stage, I think Lycera can be a great company that can compete with anybody,” Sibold told me, during a phone interview from the Ann Arbor offices.

Lycera envisions growing up over time from two bases of operation. Ann Arbor will remain the home to the drug discovery team, which is made up of about 15 people, many of whom used to work together at Pfizer before the company closed its research center there. Clinical development, regulatory affairs, business development, and executive leadership is being established in Cambridge, to take advantage of the region’s rich talent pool, Sibold says.

Sibold, 43, has the kind of background that venture capitalists want in an executive, and that is hard to find outside of Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s got a Harvard Business School … Next Page »

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