Glaxo’s Tempero Pharma Advances on Hot Niche of Immunology

7/15/10

Hold onto your lab coats and safety goggles. Big drug companies and venture firms are engaging in a scientific land grab in the Boston area and beyond to gain rights to new discoveries about what are known as adaptive immune responses. They’re jockeying for the best technology and help from top brains at Harvard, MIT, and local biotech startups.

London-based drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) formed the biotech startup Tempero Pharmaceuticals in March 2009 to stake its claim in this emerging area of immunology. Last week, Tempero CEO Spiros Jamas gave me a rare tour of his firm’s headquarters and labs in Kendall Square (including the foosball table) as well as a run-down of its founders’ discoveries—which shed new light on why some peoples’ immune systems mount dangerous attacks on healthy tissues in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Tempero, which is solely funded by Glaxo so far, is playing for keeps. It’s got a trio scientific founders—Christophe Benoist, Vijay Kuchroo, and Diane Mathis—who are Harvard professors regarded as top minds in immunology. The firm has also recruited two of Boston’s biggest names in biotech—Rich Aldrich, a life sciences investor who was a founding executive of Cambridge, MA-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:VRTX), and John Maraganore, the CEO of Cambridge-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALNY)—to serve as Tempero’s independent directors.

Jamas told me about what prompted Glaxo to form Tempero, rather than pursuing its technology internally. “There was a realization that a lot of the basic science in this space was driven by academic thought leaders,” Jamas said. “And a lot of them were being pursued by venture capital … Next Page »

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