Acceleron Weans Itself Off VC, Continues its Roll with Pharma Partner Dollars

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Advanced Technology Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, Flagship Ventures, MPM Capital, OrbiMed Advisors, Polaris Venture Partners, and Venrock Associates. (The company raised $86 million of its some $100 million from VCs prior to its Celgene deal in early 2008.)

For sure, Acceleron is among an exclusive group of Boston-area biotech firms that have also had success in garnering investments from both VC and drug companies. Others in this fortunate bunch include Aveo Pharmaceuticals (which went public in March), Concert Pharmaceuticals, and Agios Pharmaceuticals. Drug companies, with their deep pockets, appear to have become a more popular source of capital for biotech startups than before the financial collapse of 2008, which took its toll on other VC outfits and other investors.

Acceleron obviously has its hands on hot science that its drug partners want for their own pipelines. Its research, based on a family of proteins that control tissue growth and healing across a variety of tissue types in the body, has yielded numerous potential drugs for serious diseases. (The inspiration to start the firm was the muscle-bound Belgian blue bull, which has a protein mutation that causes rapid development of lean muscles.) The main focus of the firm’s pact with Shire, for example, is a drug that is designed to increase the growth of muscle tissue by impacting a protein receptor on cells. The drug, dubbed ACE-031, showed in an initial human study last summer that it could increase muscle mass and has advanced into a larger, mid-stage clinical trial.

For Shire’s part, the drug offers the opportunity to expand its Lexington, MA-based Human Genetic Therapies division, which is already a rapidly growing provider of drugs for rare genetic diseases such as Fabry disease and Hunter syndrome. While ACE-031 has the potential to work in a range of muscular disorders, Acceleron and now Shire see the most immediate market opportunity in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. There’s no cure and limited treatment options for the disease, which causes muscle tissues to fade and robs patients of their ability to walk. It affects about one in every 3,500 males born today, and its victims typically die by age 25.

“This collaboration with Acceleron still represents our focus on rare genetic disease but expands us into … Next Page »

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