Harvard Accelerator Program, Proving Its Mettle with Startups and Pharma Partnerships, Looks to Raise Big New Fund
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adding fluorine to organic molecules (such as pharmaceutical drugs) to make them more stable, potent, and better able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier, was supported in part by the Accelerator Fund. The project turned into a Boston startup, SciFluor Life Sciences, which has an exclusive license on the technology and a group of compounds from Harvard. In May, SciFluor said it raised a $5 million Series A round from Allied Minds.
Another story involves Proteostasis Therapeutics, a well-known drug developer based in Cambridge, MA, that raised a big venture round in 2008. The company’s drug technology, which targets neurodegenerative diseases and other ailments by altering protein homeostasis networks, has roots at The Scripps Research Institute, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Northwestern University. But Harvard scientists Dan Finley, Randall King, and Alfred Goldberg, also working in the field, developed some promising drug compounds and worked with the Harvard tech development office to pursue a licensing deal with Proteostasis. As a result, the three Harvard researchers were recently named scientific co-founders of the company. And in May, Proteostasis inked a strategic alliance with Irish pharmaceutical firm Elan to develop the drugs.
The big aim of such pharma partnerships, of course, is for “one major drug to come out of it,” Kohlberg says. To that end, he says, the five-year goal for the Accelerator Fund is for one or two drug candidates born from Harvard research to be in Phase 1 clinical trials, and for at least one of the program’s startups to enter into exit talks with another company.
But a deeper, more scholarly motivation is baked into the program as well, and it serves as a key driver of the fund. “There is a societal mission inherent in the Accelerator,” Kohlberg says. “It goes directly to one of the core missions of the university, public service, what universities are all about.”