Hydra Biosciences Raises $22M to Create New Pain Relievers With Fewer Side Effects

1/16/09Follow @xconomy

Hydra Biosciences has been around a long time for a private biotech company with no experimental drugs in clinical trials. Even so, seven years after its founding, the Cambridge, MA-based company has secured a $22 million Series D round of venture capital to develop experimental pain drugs designed to be as powerful as morphine—without the narcotic side effects.

MedImmune Ventures led the round, and was joined by existing investors Advanced Technology Ventures, Abingworth, Polaris Venture Partners, BioVenture Investors, Biogen Idec Ventures, and Lilly Ventures. The company got its start with a $10 million Series A round back in 2002, and now has raised $69 million total since its beginning, says CEO Russell Herndon.

The fuss is about Hydra’s techniques for blocking, or possibly stimulating, targets on cells with a mouthful of a name—Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) ion channels. About one-seventh of the world’s pharmaceutical sales come from drugs that block ion channels on cells, like calcium-channel blockers that lower blood pressure. The problem with most ion channels is that one that might be a good drug target is often structurally similar to another ion channel on healthy cells. That means a drug that blocks one ion channel is likely to hit all sorts of healthy cells and cause side effects, Herndon says.

Hydra is learning that the TRP family is more structurally distinct, and the company says its animal experiments have shown it has been able to synthesize drug candidates that can be designed to exquisitely hit the targets while avoiding markers on cells that resemble them. This new understanding of biology should pave the way for an experimental pain drug with the power of morphine, that doesn’t cause constipation, euphoria, or addiction, he says. If these ideas are proven with pain meds, then researchers will try to duplicate the feat for other huge pharmaceutical markets—high blood pressure, lung diseases like asthma, and central nervous system disorders, Herndon says.

“There really continues to be great excitement around this field and our leadership in it,” Herndon says. “We’ve brought in some strategic investors, like MedImmune Venture, Biogen Idec and Lilly who want to keep their finger on the pulse.”

Herndon, a former president of Lexington, MA-based Antigenics and president of Genzyme’s tissue repair unit, came to Hydra in January 2006. The company signed a partnership with Pfizer, the world’s largest drugmaker, a year later to co-develop its TRP programs, although that collaboration has ended … Next Page »

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