Ensemble Adds to Cast of Partners With Alexion Deal

Xconomy Boston — 

Ensemble Therapeutics can add Alexion Pharmaceuticals to the list of believers in its drug discovery engine.

Cheshire, CT-based Alexion (NASDAQ: ALXN), the company that has made a fortune off of the super-expensive rare disease drug eculizumab (Soliris), has become the latest company to tap into Cambridge, MA-based Ensemble’s library of synthetic macrocycles—molecules intended to combine the properties of both small-molecule drugs and biologics, like antibodies, to blast tough-to-reach biological targets.

The two companies didn’t disclose the financial numbers surrounding the partnership—CEO Mike Taylor would only say the figures are “quite financially attractive”—but under the deal, Alexion will identify various drug targets it wants to attack, and Ensemble will screen its library of more than 10 million macrocycles to find ones with the best chance to hit those targets in a meaningful way to become drugs.

Ensemble will get an unspecified upfront payment as well as research support, and stands to tack on various milestone payments tied to development and commercialization goals. Alexion will get the rights to develop and commercialize any drugs that come out of the partnership.

The partnership marks the latest strategic move for Ensemble, which has quietly assembled a sizeable cast of collaborators. Since 2009, Ensemble has struck drug discovery deals with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Pfizer, Roche’s Genentech unit, and Boehringer Ingelheim. Its success in doing so has kept it from needing a significant infusion of venture capital since 2007. Ensemble has raised around $38.5 million in equity financing to date from Flagship Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, CMEA, Harris & Harris, Kisco Ltd., and Boston University. The company has enough cash to operate for several more years because of the collaboration dollars, Taylor says.

Besides the extra financial runway the Alexion partnership gives Ensemble, it also allows Ensemble to expand its platform into the rare disease space, which hasn’t been the focus of its previous collaborations, Taylor says.

Mike Taylor, CEO of Ensemble

“This is a very important deal for us,” he says. “[It’s] going to allow us to develop the platform into these new areas, as well as to help provide funding for the Alexion work and some funding for our internal efforts as well,”

Ensemble has been able to successfully attract partners because of both the sheer size of its library of synthetic macrocycles, and the efficiency with which it can screen that library for drug candidates against certain biological targets. Though Ensemble hasn’t … Next Page »

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