In one of the Boston area’s biggest startup deals in recent years, Cambridge, MA-based Blueprint Medicines said today it has raised $40 million in Series A financing led by Third Rock Ventures. Blueprint has been stealthy to date, but its focus is on developing “personalized” cancer treatments based on molecular and cancer genome data and a proprietary chemical-compound library.
The big idea, as I see it, is to shift certain cancers from a death sentence to a manageable condition. Blueprint proposes to do this by understanding the molecular drivers of cancer processes and developing more targeted drugs, such as kinase inhibitors that block the action of enzymes that control things like cancer cell proliferation. Presumably the company’s drugs also will take into account specific cancer mechanisms that are found in some, but not all, patients with certain malignancies.
Blueprint was founded earlier this year by Nicholas Lydon, Brian Druker, Chris Varma, and David Armistead, together with Third Rock. Back in the 1990s, Lydon and Druker helped lead the development of imatinib (Gleevec), a pioneering kinase inhibitor drug (sold by Novartis) against chronic myeloid leukemia. That drug produced remarkable responses in this small patient population, allowing almost 90 percent of patients to live at least five years, according to data published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006. Gleevec has since become one of the biggest blockbuster cancer drugs ever, generating $4.27 billion in sales for Novartis last year.
The new effort at Blueprint Medicines is being led by Varma and Armistead, both biotech veterans, as CEO and chief scientific officer, respectively. Third Rock’s Mark Levin and Alexis Borisy serve on Blueprint’s board of directors.
To date, Blueprint has been housed in Third Rock’s Boston office, but it plans to lease an office near Kendall Square and hire more than a dozen scientists this year, according to a report in the Boston Globe.
Targeted cancer therapies are a bustling field in Boston biotech, with companies like Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, Sanofi-Aventis, Novartis, Aveo Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AVEO), and Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI) among those in pursuit.
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