SpringLeaf Snags $15M for New Self-Injection System for Biotech Drugs

Xconomy Boston — 

The folks at SpringLeaf Therapeutics will not be accused of thinking too small. This quiet little company is stepping up today to declare its pursuit of a pretty bold idea—that it can deliver drugs that are not just safe and effective, but also more cost-effective for the U.S. healthcare system.

SpringLeaf Therapeutics, formerly known as Entra Pharmaceuticals, is announcing today it plans to pursue that lofty goal with a fresh $15 million Series B venture financing round in the bank. SR One, the corporate VC arm of GlaxoSmithKline, led the round, which included existing investors Flybridge Capital Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners.

The company has been pretty quiet since it raised its first $4 million in December 2008, although word got out a few months later that MIT drug delivery ace Michael Cima and A123Systems founder Yet-Ming Chiang were involved. SpringLeaf is pulling back the curtain a little more in today’s financing announcement, saying that it plans to make biotech drugs more effective through a self-contained system to deliver them just under the skin. The system is being primed for its first clinical trial in late 2012, SpringLeaf said in a statement.

“SpringLeaf is developing a patient-centric platform to enable more effective, better tolerated and cost-efficient therapies, which we believe address the core forces for change in today’s health care system,” said Brian Gallagher, a partner with SR One, in a statement. Gallagher is joining SpringLeaf’s board in connection with the new financing.

SpringLeaf is offering a little more description of the technology in today’s announcement. The company says it is developing an internally-driven morphing surface, “which generates a considerable amount of force in a small package” to deliver highly viscous biotech drugs. It also has what it calls a “simple, elegant” power source that is capable of delivering large volumes of injectable drugs in a small physical package.

By designing the system so biotech drugs can be delivered just under the skin, via a subcutaneous injection, patients should be able to inject themselves at home. Plenty of biotech drugs are already given this way—including blockbusters like Amgen’s etanercept (Enbrel) and Abbott Laboratories’ adalimumab (Humira)— although many genetically engineered protein drugs have to be given through intravenous infusions. Those kind of delivery mechanisms require a visit to a doctor’s office, which adds time and cost to the healthcare system beyond the actual price of the drug itself (which usually is going to be pretty high).

It’s interesting to see a corporate venture investor single out a technology at the early stage not just for its whiz-bang coolness and huge market potential, but also for its potential to lower overall healthcare system costs. It’s a theme I’ve been seeing more and more lately, in the wake of healthcare reform, as biotech entrepreneurs are being forced to think beyond just creating new products that are safe and more effective than those of the past. We’ll see how far SpringLeaf can go with this idea of creating more cost-effective new ways of delivering biotech drugs.

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