Gelesis, a Boston-based biotech startup focusing on obesity, announced this morning that it has raised $16 million in its first institutional financing.
The round was led by healthcare investment giant OrbiMed Advisors of New York and joined by Australia’s Queensland BioCapital Funds and others. It comes on top of a $900,000 seed investment from PureTech Ventures, a Boston life sciences venture firm, and PureTech partners John Zabriskie (via Lansing Brown Investments) and Ronald Cape (via the Cape Family Fund). The company also has a $1 million grant from the BIRD Foundation, whose mission is to encourage cooperation between U.S. and Israeli companies.
Eric Elenko, a principal at PureTech and a member of the Gelesis team (the company’s CEO and co-founder, Yishai Zohar, is also a former PureTech partner), says that the startup plans to use the new funding to advance a new therapy for obesity. With more than 190 million overweight and obese people in the United States alone, Elenko says, “it’s clearly an area that’s growing.”
Gelesis has been remarkably stealthy since it was founded in 2006 by PureTech and ExoTech Bio Solutions, an Israeli R&D company focused on novel chemistry, and the company is still remaining mum on the exact nature of the treatment it’s developing. I’m always skeptical when it comes to would-be weight-loss products, but Gelesis was formed with the help of some top-shelf medical, scientific, and regulatory experts. Local notables include Massachusetts General Hospital gastroenterologist Lee Kaplan, who directs the hospital’s Weight Center and studies the effects of bariatric surgery, and cardiologist Elazer Edelman, director of the Harvard-MIT Biomedical Engineering Center. The list of experts also includes FDA veteran David Feigal, whose positions at the agency included director of the Center for Devices & Radiological Health.
For all the big-name advisors and its big target market, Gelesis’ staff is still quite small, totaling only four full-time equivalents, Elenko says. The company plans to hire just another four to five people in the next year.
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