Taris Biomedical Gives Glimpse of Drug-Delivery Tech, Discloses $15M Series A

6/9/09

We’ve heard talk since the middle of last year that MIT inventors Michael Cima and Bob Langer had again united with top venture capitalists in the Boston area to launch a life sciences startup. But the founders of the startup have tried to keep lid on their activities—until today. Taris Biomedical, formerly known as Certus Biomedical, is expected to unveil its drug-delivery device for bladder disorders during a meeting at MIT this morning.

Christine Bunt, co-founder and chief operating officer of Taris (which the company puts in all capital letters to stand for targeted intravesical system), gave me a sneak preview of the startup’s presentation due to be made this morning by Cima at IdeaStream, a symposium on innovation organized by MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation. A big piece of previously undisclosed news is that the Lexington, MA-based startup quietly closed a $15 million Series A round of venture capital last August, with contributions from initial backer Boston-based Flybridge Capital Partners, Waltham, MA-based Polaris Venture Partners, and Flagship Ventures in Cambridge, MA.

Taris was formed last April to commercialize an implanted device that Cima and his colleagues at MIT invented to improve how drugs are delivered to the bladder. The device has the potential to be used for treating urinary tract infections, cancer, incontinence, and other bladder disorders. Though Bunt kept many of the details of the drug-delivery device under wraps—due to the startup’s plans for a full public launch at XSITE 2009 (the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship) on June 24—she filled me in on some basics of the technology.

The firm’s device is designed to function like an osmotic pump, using osmotic pressure to release drugs into the bladder. Bunt compares the size of the device—which is made with such materials as silicon and a nickel alloy wire—to a medium-sized paper clip, and its shape to a pretzel. The device would be inserted in short catheter-based procedures in a doctor’s office or hospital. Once implanted, the system is designed to deliver drugs into the bladder for a certain period of time. Then the device is removed after, say, a couple of weeks. (Taris plans to disclose its initial use of the technology at XSITE, the COO says.)

Delivering drugs to the bladder is tricky business. The current options include oral tablets, which must travel through the body to get to the bladder and can cause side effects in other organs. Some bladder diseases are treated with individual infusions or injections of a drug. But there are limits to how much of the drugs can be pumped into the body in one sitting, and patients typically must return to their doctor for each dose. The thesis at Taris is that delivering drugs directly to the bladder, in controlled amounts over a defined period of time, could overcome some of the limitations of the current treatment options.

“It’s elegantly simple, and we thought that it was going after an organ, the bladder, that this device uniquely addressed,” says Michael Greeley, a general managing partner at Flybridge, whose firm was the first to work with Cima and Langer to fund the startup.

Greeley points to Taris as a case study in transitioning academic research from a lab into a company. The Deshpande Center, which provides grants and other support to help MIT researchers translate science and technology into commercially viable products, awarded an initial grant to Cima to develop the Taris’ device in December 2005, says Greeley. While the project was still based in Cima’s lab, Greeley served as a Deshpande Center volunteer “catalyst,” or industry mentor, to help it on the road to commercialization.

Cima and his collaborators have since completed a study in which they showed that the device could deliver controlled amounts of bladder treatments in rabbits over a certain period. Langer, a scientific founder of more than a dozen biotech startups, has contributed his vast knowledge of drug delivery as well as technology from his MIT lab to Taris. Greeley noted that Flybridge has now invested in four Boston-area startups co-founded by Cima, including MicroCHIPS, T2 Biosystems, and Entra Pharmaceuticals. Langer is also among the founders of MicroCHIPS and T2.

Bunt told me why Taris has remained secretive over the past year. She says she wanted to solidify a development strategy, recruit people to the board of directors, and, more recently, complete talks with the FDA before giving the public a look at the company. Well, the nine-employee firm now plans to take its first drug-device combination product into clinical trials later this year, having talked to regulators about the design of the study earlier this spring. The startup has also recruited Ernest Mario, a veteran life sciences executive and former CEO of British drug giant Glaxo Holdings (now GlaxoSmithKline) to its board, she says.

We’ll have to wait until XSITE for more details on this, ah, exciting startup.

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    Wow, 15M..that is..very much!