A Nobel Laureate’s Stealthy Biotech, Its Japanese Pharma Backer, and the Englishman In Charge

10/14/10

Outside of certain circles at MIT, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who is familiar with the biotech startup Galenea. The Cambridge, MA-based firm has been researching drugs for schizophrenia and other neurological disorders for more than five years, yet it has done so with a unique funding strategy that has kept its significant operation under the radar.

Galenea, founded in 2003 by MIT professor and Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa and others, has received the majority of its funding from the Japanese drug maker Otsuka Pharmaceutical, Mark Benjamin, the firm’s CEO, said. The startup has never raised a round of venture capital. And the company’s founders, employees, and Otsuka own the company.

Otsuka Pharmaceutical, a unit of Otsuka Holdings, began collaborating with Galenea in January 2005 and will have pumped $90 million into the startup’s research by the end of 2011. A focus of the collaboration has been on a defective protein, studied in Tonegawa’s lab at MIT and at Rockefeller University, which is believed to play a role in schizophrenia and other neurological dysfunctions. The aim is to find drugs that can modify the activity of the protein enough to treat a variety of mental disorders.

“The original founding of the company was essentially through the personal relationship of Susumu Tonegawa and the patriarch of the Otsuka family,” Benjamin says. Tonegawa—who won a 1987 Nobel Prize in medicine for his research of the genetic underpinnings of antibodies—was born in Japan and is considered a national treasure in the country, he added.

Benjamin, a U.S. citizen who grew up in England, has had the rare experience of working at three biotech companies founded by winners of Nobel Prizes in medicine. Of course, he began working with Tonegawa when he became CEO of Galenea in 2007. Earlier in his career, Benjamin was chief business officer of Seattle-based Nura, which was co-founded by Nobel laureate … Next Page »

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  • http://www.asiaticlinical.com Mithra bindhu

    Ryan – Very catchy headline! More important- good article

    Mithra Bindhu :-)

  • http://www.acucela.com Ryo Kubota

    Great article! We love working with Otsuka as well!