Ensemble Nails Deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb to Discover New Drugs

4/15/09Follow @xconomy

Ensemble Discovery has secured an important partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb to keep its engine of new drugs humming along in a downturn. The Cambridge, MA-based company will get a $5 million upfront payment, $7.5 million to pay part of its research expenses over the next two years, and may get milestone payments worth $29.5 million for every product that makes progress in development in the future.

It might not sound like much as far as biotech and pharma deals go, but this arrangement could establish a template for future deals with other pharma companies, says CEO Mike Taylor. It also gets Bristol to pay the salaries of a “substantial” number of Ensemble’s 35 employees, which is no small thing for a venture-backed company that’s trying to make it through a downturn, especially when it can’t hang its hat on any drug candidates creating tangible value in clinical trials.

“This is really important for us,” Taylor says. “This will allow us to expand, and really explore a range of targets that Ensemblins can address.” He adds, “You can always use more money in the bank.”

Ensemble was founded in 2004 to develop a new class of drugs, which it calls “Ensemblins,” based on research by David Liu at Harvard University. It has raised $32 million in total from Flagship Ventures, Arch Venture Partners, Harris & Harris Group, CMEA Ventures, and Boston University. But the last round was in November 2007—back when it was a lot more common for VCs to stick their necks out for tantalizing and unproven drug discovery technologies.

Since then, Ensemble has shown that it has solved some of the traditional challenges of making macrocyclic drugs, which was what impressed Bristol-Myers, Taylor says. These products are supposed to be mid-sized molecules, somewhere in between … Next Page »

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