Xconomist of the Week: Alexis Borisy Still Likes Early Stage Biotechs

12/20/12Follow @cathyarnst

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is Warp Drive Bio, also in Cambridge and launched last January. The enthusiastic Borisy, who is interim CEO of Warp Drive, has a long history with startups, having founded Cambridge-based Zalicus (NASDAQ: ZLCS) (formerly CombinatoRx) in 2000, and taking it public five years later. He joined Third Rock in 2009 and, in addition to Warp Drive, is the co-founder of two of the firm’s other startups, Blueprint Medicines and Foundation Medicine, both in Cambridge as well. “I see myself as a serial entrepreneur,” Borisy says. “I want to create two to three new companies in the next few years.”

His secret, he says, is to offload much of the tremendous risk of developing a new drug onto partners with very deep pockets—ideally, a big pharmaceutical company that may even contribute its own scientific resources to the effort. That’s the unusual model Borisy is following with Warp Drive, which doesn’t even have a drug yet. Instead, it built a $10 million genomic search engine platform that it will use to sift through plants and other natural organisms for promising microbes. Warp Drive will sequence the genomes of these microbes in a search for molecules that can be turned into drugs.

It’s the kind of far-out technology that might never find a backer in the current environment, especially since Borisy says it could be five years before Warp Drive finds a therapy that can be tested in a clinical trial. But Third Rock was able to lead a stunning $125 million round in the startup’s first financing. It did so by enlisting the backing of Sanofi (NYSE: SNY), which not only agreed to invest in Warp Drive but guaranteed that it will buy the whole company within the next five years if certain milestones are met.

“We talked to the R&D heads of several big pharma companies, and the idea [of Warp Drive’s genomic search platform] really resonated with them,” says Borisy. “When we started talking to Sanofi, they said, `Let’s try and figure out how to do this.’” The interesting wrinkle … Next Page »

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