Arteaus, With $18M From Atlas and OrbiMed, Forges Ahead on Migraine-Prevention Drug

10/19/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Cambridge, MA-based Arteaus Therapeutics is emerging from stealth mode today, announcing it is has raised an $18 million funding round and is developing a molecule licensed from drug giant Eli Lilly (NYSE: LLY) to prevent migraine headaches. The financing came from Cambridge, MA-based Atlas Venture and New York-based OrbiMed Advisors.

Arteaus was founded in June, says Atlas’ David Grayzel, who is serving as the startup’s CEO. The molecule it acquired from Lilly is an antibody that targets a brain protein called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP). The protein is known to dilate blood vessels and induce inflammation in the tissues that cover the brain. “In the last 15 years, there has been a lot of data implicating CGRP in migraines,” Grayzel says. Arteaus’ experimental drug appears to block the CGRP pathway for up to a month, opening up the possibility of developing it into an injection that can be given just one or two times a month to prevent migraines, Grayzel says.

Grayzel describes the company’s business model as “highly virtual,” saying only half-jokingly that Arteaus has 1.5 employees, including him. “We’re trying to make it as lean as possible,” he says.

Unlike other companies that offload molecules in licensing deals, Lilly isn’t abandoning the drug it licensed to Arteaus. The two companies are working together in Arteaus’ virtual lab, Grayzel says. “We’re able to leverage the expertise at Lilly to rapidly move the compound forward,” he says.

Arteaus is currently completing a Phase 1 study and hopes to start a Phase 2 in the second half of 2012. When the Phase 2 ends, Lilly will have the option to continue developing the drug under terms that were not disclosed, but that will entail milestone payments and royalties paid to Arteaus.

Atlas investing partner Jean-Francois Formela says Arteaus is the flagship project of a new unit the VC firm formed last year, called Atlas Venture Development Corp. The unit’s goal is to form a portfolio of single-asset companies—startups that exist to develop just one drug to the point … Next Page »

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