Bluebird Bio Snaps up $30M for Gene Therapies, Adds ARCH Venture to Syndicate

4/20/11

Investors are rewarding Bluebird Bio for wracking up accolades with its experimental gene therapies for serious genetic diseases. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech firm has brought in $30 million in a Series C round of funding, just over year after investors pumped $35 million into the firm in its second-round financing.

ARCH Venture Partners joined the investor syndicate at Bluebird, and Steven Gillis, a managing director at ARCH, took a seat on biotech’s board of directors. The new round also drew investments from previous Bluebird backers Third Rock Ventures, TVM Capital, Forbion Capital Partners, and Easton Capital Investment Group. Nick Leschly, president and CEO of Bluebird, says that the company hadn’t exhausted its cash from its previous financing prior to closing this latest round of funding, but the additional capital will help the firm advance its clinical development plans, as well as invest in its technology.

Bluebird (formerly Genetix Pharmaceuticals) has helped change the headlines about gene therapy, from those of yesteryear that highlighted dangerous side effects, to ones describing renewed promise in the field. In September, the prestigious journal Nature ran an article about how the company’s gene therapy for an inherited blood disorder called beta-thalassemia provided significant benefits for a man in his early 20s with the disease. There are also four patients who have been treated with a version of the firm’s therapy for childhood cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (CCALD)—a genetic brain disorder also known as “Lorenzo’s Oil” disease. And the firm revealed data in May 2010 that showed its treatment had stabilized CCALD in two patients who had been treated three years earlier.

With its new financing in hand, Bluebird is planning to increase enrollment in an ongoing Phase I/II trial for its beta-thalassemia treatment over the next 12 months to about 10 patients. The treatment might also be effective in treating sickle cell anemia, and the firm plans to test it in people with that disorder too. Toward the end of the year, Leschly says, the firm aims to begin a clinical trial in the U.S. and Europe for a CCALD treatment. The trial would follow the ongoing pilot study in CCALD patients. In the meantime, the company plans to invest further in its core gene therapy technology, which Leschly says could be used to treat a variety of severe genetic diseases.

“The idea here is really to accelerate our … Next Page »

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