Acceleron Weans Itself Off VC, Continues its Roll with Pharma Partner Dollars

9/28/10

Acceleron Pharma is in an enviable position among its biotech peers. Instead of relying on venture capital in a time when the VC well has been running dry, the Cambridge, MA-based firm has been supporting its operations primarily with cash from its pharmaceutical company partners. And now Acceleron has found prospects for additional deals with large drugmakers.

Earlier this month, Acceleron said that it brought in a $45 million down payment in its collaboration with the Ireland-based drug company Shire that is mainly focused on the biotech’s potential treatment for the genetic disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. And since early 2008, the 140-person biotech has been generating revenue from a partnership with Summit, NJ-based cancer drug maker Celgene (NASDAQ:CELG). That deal, in which Acceleron is developing a treatment for anemia in cancer patients, has brought in much more than the $45 million upfront payment, Acceleron officials say. Plus, Acceleron also has a partnership with the Waltham, MA-based biotech firm Alkermes (NASDAQ:ALKS) to develop a long-lasting drug for rheumatoid arthritis.

All this means that Acceleron has the cash to fuel its operations without surviving solely on the capital it has raised from its venture capital investors—a predicament that biotech startups can get caught in when they don’t yet have money-making products on the market.

“Our hope is that we won’t have to go back to our ventures backers,” said John Knopf, the company’s CEO, who co-founded the firm in 2003. He noted that the recent deal with Shire “positions us well [financially] for the next couple of years.”

Knopf and his team have been quite successful in drawing both pharma partnerships and venture capital to his firm (which was formed around the idea that drugs designed to target certain receptors on cells can boost or stymie the growth of tissues in the body like muscle or bones to treat diseases.) From pharma partners, the firm has taken in about $140 million, according to Steven Ertel, the firm’s vice president of corporate development. Acceleron has also been rather prodigious in VC fund-raising as well, pulling in about $100 million since 2004 from big-named venture backers such as … Next Page »

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