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of cases of the most common seasonal flu infections tested in the U.S. were resistant to oseltamivir, an anti-viral drug marketed by Swiss drug giant Roche as Tamiflu. In January, the agency reported that nearly all such flu strains, known as H1N1 influenza, that it had tested this flu season were resistant to Tamiflu—although each of those resistant strains was treatable with other FDA-approved drugs.
Large drug companies like GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, and Novartis are major players in the multibillion-dollar global market for flu treatments. And Parasol investor Robert Paull, a managing partner at Lux, says that these industry giants need to feed their development pipelines with new vaccines. “Some of these companies like Parasol are playing right into that,” Paull says. “In Parasol’s case, one of the most compelling aspects of the technology out of MIT is their understanding of rapidly mutating pathogens, with the first focus being on flu.”
Parasol is the latest of three biotech startups Sasisekharan has formed with Crane and others at Polaris, and each of the firms has benefited from the MIT professor’s discoveries related to complex sugar molecules, Crane says. The first firm in the Sasisekharan-Polaris franchise, Momenta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:MNTA), is applying technology from the professor’s lab to develop novel biotech drugs and copies of existing biologics like blood-thinner Lovenox (enoxaparin sodium injection). Crane was CEO of Cambridge-based Momenta from 2002 to 2006. He was also founding chief executive of the second firm, Cerulean Pharma (formerly Tempo Pharmaceuticals), also based in Cambridge. Cerulean is developing nano-sized drugs to treat cancer and other diseases, and Crane says that Sasisekharan’s involvement in the firm stems in part from his interest in the role of complex sugar molecules in cutting off the blood supply to tumors.
“I think that people like Ram are people who, instead of saying, ‘I have a hammer let me figure out what nail I can nail in,’ they say, ‘What are the problems out there that can be solved?'” Crane says, “and then they go about figuring out the best ways to solve those problems.”
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