Allena Pharma Launches With $15M From Third Rock and Other Top-Tier VCs

11/16/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Allena Pharmaceuticals, based in Newton, MA, is announcing today that it has started up and raised $15 million in a Series A financing round, led by Third Rock Ventures, Frazier Healthcare, and Bessemer Venture Partners. The new company is pursuing protein therapeutics and is especially focused on kidney and urologic diseases. Its management team is stocked with veterans of Alnara, a biotech company that was purchased in 2010 by Eli Lilly for $380 million. Allena’s three lead investors were also backers of Alnara.

Taking a page from Alnara’s playbook, Allena is developing enzyme-based drugs that can be taken orally, rather than injected. They are designed to remain stable in the stomach and to deliver their therapeutic benefits from there—without ever getting distributed broadly in the body. “We want zero percent of the enzyme to end up in circulation,” says Alexey Margolin, CEO of Allena. “The beauty of this approach is it results in a low level of toxicity.”

Allena is targeting diseases that are caused by wayward “metabolites,” substances that the body produces during the digestive process. Margolin says he isn’t quite ready to reveal what diseases the company is working on, but he offers gout as an example of a metabolite-related disease. Gout, a type of arthritis, occurs when excess amounts of the metabolite uric acid build up in the blood. “With the right enzyme, you can destroy the metabolite without leaving the gut,” Margolin says. “For each bad metabolite, there is a good enzyme. It’s as simple as that.”

Allena’s scientists are developing techniques to improve the stability of enzymes, so they don’t get destroyed by the stomach before they can deliver their therapeutic payload. Robert Gallotto, the company’s chief operating officer, says the company is spending a lot of time studying its enzymes in animals, so “by the time we get to the clinic, we’ll know how they work, where they work, and to what degree they work time-wise,” he says.

Allena plans to announce its lead disease target in the coming months. Though some of the conditions the company seeks to treat may be rare, Margolin and Gallotta believe the market opportunities are vast. In kidney disease in particular, says Margolin, “there haven’t been new drugs for many years.”

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