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Flexion Therapeutics Secures $20 Million to Fight Osteoarthritis

[Corrected 12/04/12, 9:08 a.m. See below.Flexion Therapeutics, based in Woburn, MA, said today that it has raised $20 million in a Series B financing led by Novo Ventures, a new investor. Flexion CEO Michael Clayman told me that the money will be used to start a Phase 2b clinical trial of its leading drug candidate, FX005 for osteoarthritis, and to continue clinical development of FX006, its second compound now in Phase 2, through 2013. [An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the clinical trial stages for Flexion’s drugs. We regret the error.]

Flexion’s existing investors, 5AM Ventures, Pfizer Ventures, Sofinnova Partners, and Versant Ventures, also participated in this latest financing, and Novo Ventures Partner Health Lukatch has joined Flexion’s board. Novo Ventures makes investments on behalf of Denmark’s Novo Nordisk Foundation.

The five-year-old biotech is developing three new treatments for osteoarthritis, all designed to be injected into the joints to avoid the gastrointestinal and other side effects associated with most oral drugs for the joint disease. All three are also sustained release formulations. “There is tremendous unmet medical need in osteoarthritis. The currently available therapies are inadequate, and the field is ripe for innovation,” Clayman says. “We think both our 005 and 006 molecules have the potential to be disease-modifying drugs, although we are testing them to relieve symptoms.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 27 million adults had osteoarthritis in 2005, and that number will rise to 67 million by 2030 as the population ages. Nearly one in two people in the U.S. develops osteoarthritis by age 85, according to the CDC. GBI Research estimates that sales of drugs to treat musculoskeletal disorders will grow from $33.4 billion in 2010 to $54.8 billion by 2017.

As Xconomy reported in May, FX005 successfully completed a mid-stage 12-week trial that showed it improved pain after a month when compared with placebo. The slow-acting drug, which inhibits a protein associated with inflammation, proved to be very safe, Clayman says, which is critical in a chronic disease that afflicts the elderly. Regulators’ “tolerance for drugs that have any meaningful safety issues is poor,” he says.  [An earlier version of this story incorrectly said patients’ tolerance  is poor. We regret the error.]