Enlight Biosciences Forms Partnership with Abbott Labs

11/4/09

There’s big news about Enlight Biosciences breaking here at the Xconomy Forum: Pharma’s Bet on Boston Innovation. Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) has joined the consortium of big pharmas that are supporting Enlight, according to CEO David Steinberg; the Boston-based startup is out to develop platform technologies to help large drug companies like Abbott streamline the processes of developing new products and reduce the risk involved.

Abbott Park, IL-based Abbott, like the previous five pharmas to back Enlight, has agreed to provide Enlight with up to $13 million for its own operations and to invest in spinoff companies. Backers of Enlight’s innovative business model also include Merck & Co. (NYSE:MRK), Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), Eli Lilly (NYSE:LLY), Novartis, and Pfizer (NYSE:PFE).

Enlight is addressing a major problem in the pharmaceutical industry—the tremendous risk and cost of developing a new drug. On average it takes more than $1 billion and about a decade to bring a drug to market. And the vast majority of drugs fail in clinical trials, often after the years and fortunes have been spent on them. Enlight is particularly interested is in developing platform technologies and tools that improve drug R&D but are not that actual drugs themselves, Steinberg said. The company’s goal is to launch companies to develop these technologies, which could ultimately be used by Enlight’s pharma company collaborators. Abbott’s contribution to Enlight brings the company’s total commitments from its pharma partners to $78 million.

“It’s further validation of our business model in terms of what is needed in pharma,” Steinberg said, adding that Abbott actually joined the collaborators at Enlight in the spring; the announcement has taken several months to get approved.

Enlight’s model is to hunt for innovation at the academic level and from companies; its pharma members get early access to the technologies that Enlight and they choose to invest in and develop. Each of the pharma members agree that they will share the technologies with each other—and eventually the drug-development industry as whole—to improve all of their chances of succeeding. PureTech Ventures of Boston was the founding venture investor in Enlight, which was launched in 2008. (Daphne Zohar, managing partner at PureTech, revealed earlier this afternoon during a panel here that Steinberg would be announcing the addition of a sixth pharmaceutical firm to the Enlight membership.)

“By putting the six pharmas together,” Steinberg said, “it expands tremendously what we can get done.” Enlight has already launched a startup called Endra, which develops technology that combines the capabilities of ultrasound with optical imaging to show drug developers whether a drug is able to shrink a tumor during clinical trials, rather than having to wait until after the study is completed.

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