Prominent Flatley Family Launches Boston Nonprofit for Cystic Fibrosis Drug Research

3/3/10

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disaster for biotechs that were both in need of cash and lacked product revenue to support their operations. The crisis was felt at several Boston-area biotech firms with cystic fibrosis drugs in development, including Altus Pharmaceuticals, CombinatoRx, and Epix Pharmaceuticals. Last year Altus and Epix went broke and shut their doors, and the cystic fibrosis program at Cambridge-based CombinatoRx (NASDAQ:CRXX) was a victim of major cutbacks at the company. The CF Foundation had invested millions of dollars in the troubled companies to fund their cystic fibrosis research.

CFRx has picked up scientists, equipment, and technology from both CombinatoRx and Epix. Fitzpatrick says that CFRx has been screening numerous molecules in search of potential cystic fibrosis drugs, but the nonprofit has not acquired any of those specific molecules from CombinatoRx or Epix. (Cambridge-based Alnara Pharmaceuticals inherited Altus’s former cystic fibrosis drug through a deal last year with the CF Foundation, which had taken ownership of the asset from Altus.)

CFRx was “able to acquire some assets and some technology that, due to the distress in the financial market, would have been put on hold,” MassBio’s Coughlin says.

Flatley has big goals for CFRx. The nonprofit wants to find a molecule that addresses a defective protein in cystic fibrosis patients that causes them to produce thick, sticky mucus in their lungs and other organs, leading to lung infections and impeding normal digestion. Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX) is in late-stage development of a cystic fibrosis drug called VX-770 that targets this faulty protein, but the drug hasn’t been approved and it’s not a cure for the disease. Flatley wants his nonprofit to advances molecules to a stage at which they are ready to be picked up by drug-development companies with the expertise to bring them to market.

CFRx has formed a close collaboration with the CF Foundation. Robert Beall, the president of the foundation, says that his group is working with CFRx on a molecule that was under development at Epix before the Lexington, MA-based company folded. Some of the foundation’s own researchers are also working at in the nonprofit’s lab in Boston, including Martin Mense, who headed cystic fibrosis research at Epix before he became an employee of the foundation, Beall says.

“It’s a great collaboration,” Beall says. “It’s allowed us a laboratory presence outside the academic environment. And it’s going to allow us to move forward with some drugs.”

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  • Sandra Engebretsen

    From the mother of a 6 year old with cystic fibrosis, Thank You to the Flatley family for taking on this mission!

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  • SeamusNH

    I have a friend with two sons with CF. Nice to see this. My father knew John Flatley when he came to the US from Ireland. Flatley was installing gas appliances in three deckers in Dorchester at the time. He then started buying and renovating the three deckers leading to an outstanding career in real estate. A fine example of an immigrant living the American dream, and giving something back as seen in this CF initiative. My father and all the other old Irish guys that worked in the post office, Edison, Boston Gas, etc. appreciate this…