Acetylon, Backed by Patriots Owner Bob Kraft, Snags $27M to Develop New Cancer Drugs

Xconomy Boston — 

Boston-based Acetylon Pharmaceuticals has been pursuing one of the hottest fields in cancer biology the past couple years, and today it said it was able to scrape together a sizable amount of money to execute on its game plan.

The company, founded two years ago on scientific work at Harvard University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said today it has completed a $27 million Series B financing round from private individuals. Acetylon has previously said it pulled in $4.9 million in support from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and Xconomy has previously reported that Acetylon’s financing has come from a prominent crew of Dana-Farber supporters, including tech entrepreneur Marc Cohen and New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft. Acetylon said it has now collected $40 million from private investors, nonprofits, and federal grants.

The big names, and big money, are coalescing around new drug candidates from a class known as histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors. Acetylon’s lead drug candidate, known as ACY-1215, is designed to selectively hit a certain enzyme called HDAC6, which is thought to be implicated in multiple myeloma, a deadly cancer of the bone marrow. There are already a couple very successful myeloma drugs on the market from Cambridge, MA-based Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company and Summit, NJ-based Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), although they are designed to work in different ways. The world of HDAC drugs has been heating up for some time, especially since Cambridge, MA-based Gloucester Pharmaceuticals was acquired in December 2009 by Celgene for as much as $640 million for its compound for a rare lymphoma. Merck also has an HDAC inhibitor on the market, vorinostat (Zolinza).

Acetylon said it plans to use the cash to move its lead drug candidate into clinical trials, which it says are “starting over the next several months.” Some of the money will also be set aside to build up Acetylon’s pipeline of drug candidates for diseases other than cancer—such as autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, neurodegenerative disorders, and infectious diseases like malaria. By designing small molecules to be selective to certain disease-related HDAC enzymes, Acetylon said it hopes to avoid side effects that have bedeviled other HDAC treatments.