Surface Logix, Developer of Obesity and Diabetes Drugs, Nabs $20M Financing

3/9/09Follow @xconomy

Surface Logix got a new CEO on board last fall, and five months later it has nailed down a load of new cash. The Brighton, MA-based biotech company, which uses an unusual chemical trick to treat obesity and diabetes, has secured $20 million to see if it can prove its experimental drugs work in human beings.

The Series E financing, being announced today, is coming in the form of $15 million in venture capital and a $5 million loan. The equity backers include Arch Venture Partners, HBM BioVentures, Healthcare Focus, Intel Capital, Saudi Venture Development, Unilever Technology Ventures, and Venrock Associates. The venture loan comes from Silicon Valley Bank.

This shot of cash comes less than six months into the tenure of Surface Logix’s new CEO Keith Dionne. He sold his previous company, Cambridge, MA-based Alantos Pharmaceuticals, to Amgen for $300 million. His new mission will be to lead this venture through a critical proving ground, pushing its top drug candidate through a pair of clinical trials for obesity and diabetes that should yield results by the end of the year. If the investors’ hunch is right, Surface Logix will be able to show its chemists have made the first drug that can block fat from being absorbed in the body, without causing the sort of liver-damaging side effects that plagued similar efforts at drug giants like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. The prize for anyone who comes up with a truly effective and safe obesity drug is huge—about two-thirds of Americans are estimated to be overweight or obese.

“These are darn good programs,” Dionne says. “These are big markets, the drugs are novel, no one’s done it before, and they’re wholly owned by the company.”

Surface Logix, which has about 35 employees, got its start in 2001 with technology from the prolific Harvard University chemistry lab of George Whitesides. The idea is that if medicinal chemists could borrow some of the techniques from their relatives in physical chemistry, by modifying the surface of conventional small-molecule oral drugs, they might be able to better control how drugs interact with proteins the drugs need to block in the body, Dionne says.

The lead drug candidate that will test this idea is SLX-4090. This oral drug is designed to block something called the microsomal triglyceride transfer protein (MTP). This protein, found in the cells that line the intestines, has the important job of helping transport fatty cholesterols, triglycerides, and other nutrients so they get absorbed from the gut into the body, where, sadly, the fat often gets stored. Scientists have tried blocking this critical gateway protein before with small-molecule drugs, but the problem was that the drug got absorbed throughout the bloodstream, and ended up trapping too much fat in the liver where the drug gets broken down, Dionne says. This caused all sorts of worrisome liver damage, like cirrhosis. “It was unacceptable,” Dionne says.

Surface Logix thinks it has a better idea, because its drug will never travel to the liver. This compound … Next Page »

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