Gates Foundation Invests in Flu Drug Developer Visterra

Xconomy Boston — 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation continues its strategy of financial support for biotech startups with an investment in Visterra, a four-year-old Cambridge, MA, company developing an antidote to pandemic flu. Visterra says today that the Gates Foundation is one of the investors in an additional $13 million raised to complete a $26 million Series A financing.

Omega Funds also participated in the financing along with existing investors Polaris Venture Partners, Flagship Ventures, and Lux Capital. The money will be used to continue developing Visterra’s lead product, VIS410, an antibody meant to both prevent and treat influenza.

As my colleague Luke Timmerman wrote a few weeks ago in “The New Power Players in Drug R&D are Wearing Bright T-Shirts,” the Gates Foundation is one of a number of non-profits providing seed money to biotech firms working on drugs for some of the world’s worst diseases. “The gap between nonprofit and for-profits worlds is narrowing, and it’s a good thing,” Luke wrote.

Visterra said the Gates Foundation may also commit more money to support the company’s other research that fits in with the foundation’s goals. “We look forward to a long and productive partnership, including collaborating on additional programs of common interest in the future,” Visterra CEO Steven Brugger said in a statement.

Visterra’s focus on infectious disease certainly fits into the Gates Foundation’s mission, and it is a focus embraced by few large pharma companies, although Visterra did announce an antibody discovery collaboration deal with Pfizer in September. Visterra, formerly called Parasol Therapeutics, was spun out of the lab of MIT biochemist Ram Sasisekharan of MIT with $3.25 million in seed money, and in 2010 it raised another $6 million.