Parasol Therapeutics Moves to Neighborhood with $3.25M in Seed Funding—Hunting for Universal Therapeutic to Battle Drug-Resistant Flu

4/22/09

Parasol Therapeutics, a stealthy biotech startup co-founded by MIT bioengineering professor Ram Sasisekharan, has raised $3.25 million in a seed round of venture capital to develop new treatments and diagnostics initially for influenza, says Alan Crane, a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners and chairman of Parasol. On top of taking on the global flu epidemic, the young firm is moving into labs just down Rogers Street from Xconomy’s main office in Cambridge, MA. So call this a newsy neighborhood update.

Before its recent move to Kendall Square, Parasol had been in an incubation phase at Polaris’s offices in Waltham, MA. Kevin Bitterman, a principal at Polaris, is heading day-to-day operations at the startup as interim CEO, Crane says. In addition to Polaris, the syndicate of investors in Parasol’s $3.25 million seed round (at least most of which raised last year) includes Flagship Ventures of Cambridge and Lux Capital in New York.

Parasol is developing products based on breakthroughs in Sasisekharan’s lab at MIT. The discoveries involve how influenza viruses bind to sugar chains known as glycans on the surfaces of cells in order to infect them, Crane explains. Glycans help regulate what enters cells, and the molecular structure of these sugar chains can determine whether or not a flu virus can infect a cell. The biotech firm plans to exploit this new body of knowledge to pursue novel diagnostics, drugs, and vaccines for influenza—including a “universal therapeutic” that could be used to treat any strain of the flu. A major problem with flu viruses is their ability to mutate and develop resistance to existing treatments, and Parasol aims to beat this resistance problem through its understanding of how the viruses attach to cells to infect living tissues.

“We need therapeutics that won’t develop resistance,” Crane says. “We also need therapeutics that can intervene relatively late in the infection process and still have a good effect, because one of the issues with a lot of these drugs is if you’ve had the virus for a couple of days they have only a modest effect.”

Indeed, there have been increases in the resistance of certain flu strains to certain drugs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During last flu season, for example, the CDC found that 11 percent … Next Page »

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