Glaxo’s SR One Injects Pharma Bucks into $22M Round for Constellation Pharma

6/2/10

Scientists have been buzzing for years now about new drugs that can turn DNA on or off in ways that affect many diseases. Now more big pharmaceutical dollars are flowing to support this idea at a Cambridge, MA-based biotech that specializes in making drugs based this field of genetics research.

SR One, the venture capital arm of London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, has led a $22 million Series B round of financing for Cambridge, MA-based Constellation Pharmaceuticals. (Christoph Westphal, a well-known biotech entrepreneur based in Boston, became the president and head of SR One in April.) Constellation also drew part of its second-round financing from its previous venture backers: Altitude Life Sciences, The Column Group, Third Rock Ventures, and Venrock Associates.

Constellation, which has now raised $54 million since it was founded in 2008, is searching for new ways to treat cancer with drugs that target so-called epigenetic enzymes. The enzymes can control how spools of DNA strands in our cells express or mute certain genes. The drugs could be useful, say, in blocking the enzymes that prevent tumor-suppressing genes from making natural proteins that kill cancer cells. (More on epigenetics here.) Mark Goldsmith, the company’s CEO, says drugs that target epigenetic enzymes could also be used to treat inflammatory, immune, and diseases other than cancer.

Glaxo (NYSE:[GSK), one of the ten largest drug firms in the world, has made Constellation its latest bet in the field of epigenetics. In October, the drug giant spent $8 million upfront to form a collaboration with the Dublin, CA-based biotech firm SuperGen to develop cancer drugs that home in on epigenetic targets. Also, Glaxo operates an epigenetic research group in the U.K. called EpiNova.

With SR One's investment in Constellation, Westphal is making his leadership at Glaxo's venture arm felt in his hometown. Though SR One is officially headquartered in Conshohocken, PA, Westphal has said he would remain based in the Boston area, where he's co-founded and served as CEO of such high-flying biotech firms as Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:[[ALNY]]), Momenta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:MNTA), and, perhaps most famously, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. Glaxo bought Sirtris, a developer of drugs that target anti-aging genes, for $720 million in May 2008. And Westphal had remained CEO of Sirtris until April, when he resigned to take the helm at SR One.

On top of his SR One duties, Westphal is quietly putting together the pieces for a new venture firm in Boston called … Next Page »

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