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Former J&J Group Chairman’s Firm Backs BIND Biosciences in $12.4M Round

BIND Biosciences has a knack for selling high-profile investors on its idea of targeting cancer cells with nanoparticle drugs. The Cambridge, MA-based startup has added to its list of marquee backers with the closing of a $12.4 million Series C round of funding, according to the company.

Endeavour Vision, the Swiss venture firm, is the latest outfit to join BIND‘s investor syndicate. Eric Milledge, a venture partner at Endeavour who was in on the BIND deal, was previously the chairman of the health care systems group at Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). BIND says that all of its previous backers—including Arch Venture Partners, DHK Investments, Flagship Ventures, NanoDimension, and Polaris Venture Partners—participated in its third-round financing as well.

The company, which has now raised a total of about $42 million, plans to use some of the new funding to usher its first drug-loaded nanoparticle into a Phase I clinical study for treating solid tumors. If the FDA gives its nod to BIND’s plans, the trial is likely to begin in the fourth quarter of 2010, says Scott Minick, the company’s chief executive. The firm is also pursuing uses of its technology—which came from the labs of founders Bob Langer, the renowned MIT biochemist, and Omid Farokhzad of Harvard Medical School—for treating cardiovascular conditions and inflammation. The firm also wants to use its nanoparticles to overcome the monster challenge of delivering RNA-interference (RNAi) drugs deep into the body.

BIND’s technology “is a true product engine,” says Minick, who became CEO of the company last year, after initially serving as an investor and board member on behalf of Arch Venture Partners. “We’ve shown already that we can develop more than 15 different nanoparticle-based drugs, including peptides, proteins, and [RNAi treatments].”

The firm has developed a system for putting different types of drugs into different nanoparticles. Targeting molecules rise from the outer surfaces of the nanoparticles and are supposed to bind to specific cells in the body. This gives the company the potential to deliver drug payloads to diseased tissues like tumors while reducing the amount of drug that impacts healthy tissues. The net result could be drugs that are less toxic and more targeted than previous treatments.

For the firm’s first clinical trial, BIND is loading its nanoparticles with an approved chemotherapy drug called docetaxel (which is a multibillion-dollar product marketed by Sanofi-Aventis as Taxotere.) The firm has applied for its own patents on its docetaxel-loaded nanoparticle, Minick says, and Sanofi will have no rights to BIND’s version of the treatment. The French drug giant’s patents on docetaxel begin to expire later this year.

Like many Phase I studies for cancer drugs, the company’s initial trial will test the drug at various doses to measure how much of it cancer patients can safely take, Minick says. Also, the firm is testing the drug in patients with different types of tumors. In later-stage trials, the company would pick specific tumor types to target and study. While the CEO isn’t saying how long this trial is expected to last, Phase I studies of cancer drugs often take about a year to enroll patients and monitor the effects of the treatments. BIND’s version of docetaxel could boost the amount of the chemotherapy that gets to tumors without increasing toxicity, which can lead to side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea.

BIND’s also working on one of the biggest conundrums in life sciences today: How does one deliver short interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules into cells deep in the body to silence disease genes. The molecules alone don’t stand a chance in the bloodstream, where the body’s own defenses would destroy them before they reached their intended targets. BIND operates in the same neighborhood as Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, one of the leading developers of RNAi drugs, which has formed collaborations with researchers at MIT and elsewhere to conquer this problem. Alnylam hasn’t tapped BIND for answers to the delivery challenge, Minick says, but his team has worked with folks at MIT and Harvard on this issue and other partnerships in RNAi might be in the offing.

Yet Minick and BIND appear to have their pick of drug types they can deliver with their nanoparticles, and investors have bet more money that the company will find a winner. Endeavor’s Milledge brings the startup a big company perspective, the CEO says. Milledge climbed through the ranks at Johnson & Johnson, becoming president of the healthcare products giant’s Ortho McNeil Pharmaceutical business in 1993 and then chairman of Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems in 1998, according to his bio on the Endeavour website. The firm says he left his post at J&J and joined Endeavour as a venture partner last year.

Milledge, in a prepared statement, said of his firm’s investment in BIND: “We saw the broad impact that BIND’s nanotechnology platform can have and the team’s ability to rapidly develop important therapeutic products based on the company’s proprietary technology.”