Pulmatrix Scores $30M To Block All Sorts of Bugs That Make People Sick in the Lungs

11/2/09Follow @xconomy

Pulmatrix, the Lexington, MA-based company working to stop infectious bugs from being absorbed into the lungs, has raised $30.2 million in a Series B venture round to advance its unorthodox method for treating and preventing respiratory diseases like flu, the company is announcing today.

Arch Venture Partners and Novartis Bioventures Fund co-led the new financing, and were joined by the company’s existing investors, Polaris Venture Partners and 5AM Ventures. On top of that, Pulmatrix is raking in another $2.2 million from the National Institutes of Health to advance its research with broad potential against multiple strains of seasonal and pandemic flu.

The big idea at Pulmatrix, which has its origins in the labs of MIT’s Robert Langer and Harvard University’s David Edwards, has the potential to fundamentally challenge the tradition of antiviral treatment. Instead of engineering a drug to kill a single virus, which the pathogen can resist over time, Pulmatrix is developing a method to stop any strain of invader that might embed in the lungs. Pulmatrix is trying to do this by creating aerosols that contain positively charged ion-based compounds, like calcium and magnesium. These compounds are first supposed to stimulate immune defenses to prevent infection. But beyond that, the Pulmatrix drugs are supposed to alter the viscosity of the mucus that lines the lungs, which activates proteins to form 3-D matrices that create a firewall of sorts, blocking pathogens of any kind from burrowing deep into lung tissue.

“Think of it as like a river with a light coating of ice on top, but with the river flowing smoothly underneath,” said Pulmatrix CEO Robert Connelly, in an Xconomy interview in June. “It’s more difficult to penetrate the surface top layer, and there’s still clearance below.”

Back in June, Connelly said that evidence from animal and early human studies showed the company’s method hasn’t gummed up the mucus lining of the lungs, which could make it harder to breathe, or worse, create a haven for infectious bugs to thrive.

Pulmatrix plans to use the new money to finance “multiple clinical trials” in 2010 and 2011 against a number of respiratory diseases, according to a company statement. Pulmatrix currently has a drug candidate called PUR003 that’s being tested in an early-to-mid stage clinical trial against flu, and it expects preliminary results by the end of this year. The company plans to start an asthma trial by the end of this year, and is also pursuing a treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease—an umbrella term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

In connection with the financing, Pulmatrix has added Steve Gillis of Arch Venture Partners and Lauren Silverman of Novartis Venture Funds to its board.

“We believe that Pulmatrix’s therapies are uniquely positioned to address respiratory diseases in a fundamentally new way which could result in game changing improvements in the lives of patients with many different types of respiratory diseases,” Silverman said in a statement.

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