From One Japanese Backer to Another: Galenea Advances Brain Drugs

Xconomy Boston — 

When Cambridge, MA-based Galenea wrapped up a five-year, $90 million partnership with Japanese pharma company Otsuka in 2011, CEO Mark Benjamin feared the biotech’s days might be numbered. “We thought if we didn’t get a VC in the door within a few months, we’d be done,” Benjamin says.

Much to Benjamin’s surprise, Galenea not only survived, but it just secured another Big Pharma partnership—with another Japanese company, no less. On July 10, Galenea announced it had entered into a research collaboration with Eisai to develop new therapies for neurodegenerative diseases. Although the financial parameters of the relationship were not disclosed, Benjamin says the deal is a valuable piece of Galenea’s overall funding strategy, which essentially shields the nine-year-old company from having to rely on venture capital. “There are actually a number of different ways of sustaining the organization,” he says.

Galenea, which was co-founded in 2003 by MIT professor and Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa, has developed a technology platform for rapidly identifying molecules that may impact the communication between neurons, which is known in scientific parlance as “synaptic transmission.” The system, which Galenea calls MANTRA, takes normal or diseased neurons and measures the effects of compounds on multiple aspects of synaptic transmission.

The Otsuka partnership imbued Galenea with the cash and time it needed to develop its technology and use it to discover potential new therapies for brain diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia. But after Otsuka’s $2.4 billion IPO in December 2010, Benjamin detected a shift in the pharma giant’s focus. “They weren’t going to do external R&D the way they had been doing it,” he says. “They weren’t going to focus as much in central nervous system research.”

Galenea’s executives spent much of last year unwinding the partnership, Benjamin says, which led to an amicable ending: Otsuka licensed two schizophrenia drug candidates that emerged from the MANTRA platform. Galenea will receive milestone payments and royalties associated with their development and marketing, Benjamin says.

Galenea was on a hunt for new partners and was engaged in several discussions when it came across Eisai, Benjamin says. Eisai’s scientists are researching a protein that affects synaptic transmission and is thought to cause the degeneration of neurons, Benjamin says. Eisai’s idea is … Next Page »

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