Eleven Biotherapeutics Raises $35M, Seeks to Crank the Amplifer Up on Protein Drugs

2/17/10Follow @xconomy

It’s not every day on the biotech beat that we find a startup has been inspired by the 1984 rock mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap.” But that’s a true story behind the founding of Eleven Biotherapeutics, the latest high-profile startup in the Boston biotech cluster.

Cambridge, MA-based Eleven Biotherapeutics is emerging from stealth mode today with its volume dialed way up, as they say in the movie, past 10 on the amplifier, to 11. The company has raised $35 million in its Series A round, attracted prominent backers from Third Rock Ventures and Flagship Ventures, and assembled a five-man band of big-name scientific founders. The money and brainpower is being channeled into a company that seeks to engineer proteins with ideal properties for treating autoimmune diseases and blood clotting disorders.

Eleven is led by interim CEO Mark Levin, a founding partner with Third Rock and the former CEO of Millennium Pharmaceuticals. He’s joined by Cary Pfeffer, a partner at Third Rock, who is serving as interim chief business officer, and Burt Adelman, the former executive vice president of R&D at Biogen Idec, who is now the interim head of R&D at Eleven. I spoke with Pfeffer yesterday afternoon to get the scoop.

“We are developing substantially improved next-generation biologic drugs,” Pfeffer says. Like in the movie, “the concept is to go one better than the maximum on the amp, which is 10.”

This is all still at a very early stage. Eleven isn’t saying anything specific yet about which drugs are its lead candidates, which diseases they are designed to treat, where the intellectual property for this comes from, or exactly how far along its programs are in development. But with $35 million in hand, Eleven has the cash to hire a team of 25 to 30 people for its R&D team, and an ambitious goal of going through the early steps of development to reach a clinical trial in three years.

Mark Levin

Mark Levin

The strategy at Eleven is to assemble a portfolio of drugs, using a wide variety of best practices in protein engineering, not just one single technology platform like many other companies, Pfeffer says. The technologies are not proprietary to Eleven. The company sees its advantage being in the scientific insights of its founders, and their ability to harness so many different protein engineering technologies to drug candidates in the pipeline, Pfeffer says.

The initial plan is to develop a number of programs with low, medium, and high risk. That means Eleven plans to acquire a couple of drug candidates that are in some early phase of clinical trials, develop some internal drug candidates that are made to hit targets that have been validated by other drugs, and then put some resources toward drugs that block higher-risk, novel targets on cells.

While protein drugs are made by incubating inside living cells—and that brings an inherent amount of unpredictability when dealing with Mother Nature—Eleven is seeking to capitalize on advances that have given scientists more control over the properties they want, and don’t want, in the protein drugs that they create.

For example, it’s now possible to engineer protein drugs from scratch so they can … Next Page »

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