The Bob Langer and Polaris Family Tree: From Acusphere to Momenta to Visterra

Xconomy Boston — 

Seventeen companies in 18 years. That’s about as prolific as any entrepreneur-VC partnership in history. And when you’re talking about an MIT Institute Professor (and his collaborators) and the co-founder of Polaris Venture Partners (and his colleagues), that adds significant weight to the achievement.

Earlier this month, Bob Langer from MIT and Terry McGuire from Polaris treated Xconomy and our “VC65” event audience to a discussion of their collaboration over the years. They talked about their formula for creating and building life sciences companies based around six elements: platform technologies, tangible products, pioneering science, patents, real data, and a collaborative team environment. (You can also check out video of an earlier in-depth chat with Langer and McGuire, moderated by my colleague Wade, for more on how the duo goes about building companies.)

McGuire also presented a series of slides that captured the history and impact of the two-decade collaboration (see below). Call it the Langer-Polaris family tree—it shows their 17 startups in roughly chronological order (newer ones at the top), with branches that signify contributions from key collaborators and founders such as MIT’s Michael Cima (MicroCHIPS, TransForm, T2, Taris) and Ram Sasisekharan (Momenta, Cerulean, Visterra), and Harvard’s David Edwards (AIR, Pulmatrix).

“To be clear, I am not the only Polaris person to work with Bob, and some of the branches of the tree lead to companies where Bob is not the principal founder (such as Cerulean),” McGuire told me via e-mail. “Still, they all started with the relationship to Langer.”

From what I can tell, all the companies are either still in business or have been acquired—which is impressive in itself. Still, it’s hard to say if there has been a home run among the companies yet (we’re willing to give them a little more time). Some of the bigger financial hits have included AIR (bought by Alkermes for more than $100 million in 1999), Momenta Pharmaceuticals (IPO in 2004), and TransForm Pharmaceuticals (bought by Johnson & Johnson for $230 million in 2005).

Here are three snapshots of the company tree: The first shows the scientists and Polaris VCs involved with each company; the second shows the types of therapy they’re developing; and the third shows the companies’ potential impact on patient populations (a total of more than 1 billion lives potentially affected).

Companies and founders:

Primary therapeutic areas:

Potential lives touched (estimates of patient populations, in millions):

And below is a full list of the 17 companies, with links to our coverage:

Acusphere (NASDAQ: ACUS)

AIR (Advanced Inhalation Research, acquired by Alkermes in 1999)

Arsenal Medical

BIND Biosciences

Cerulean Pharma (formerly Tempo Pharma)

Kala Pharmaceuticals

Living Proof


Momenta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MNTA)

Pervasis Therapeutics


Selecta Biosciences

Seventh Sense Biosystems

T2 Biosystems

Taris Biomedical

TransForm Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2005)

Visterra (formerly Parasol Therapeutics)

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