Syros, a Whitehead and Dana-Farber Spinoff, Snags $30M For Cancer

4/11/13Follow @xconomy

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indifferent toward incremental advances, but they still hunger for innovative platform discovery companies, like Cambridge, MA-based Agios Pharmaceuticals (cancer metabolism) and Cambridge, MA-based Moderna Therapeutics (messenger RNA therapies), Nelsen says.

Doug Cole, a general partner at Flagship Ventures in Cambridge, MA and a founding board member, added: “We have the sense that Syros is the kind of really discontinuous advance in understanding biology that takes place occasionally. It opens up significant new opportunities for therapeutic strategies.”

Syros, like a lot of startups, is staying pretty tight-lipped about its detailed plans, to keep competitors in the dark. The company isn’t disclosing what exact biological targets it is pursuing, and isn’t saying how far along its discovery programs are, although it does have small molecule compounds that it is seeking to optimize against certain targets, Cole says. The company intends to develop cancer drugs through its internal R&D, and it will consider out-licensing the drug development rights for other diseases, Simonian says.

The team at Syros is getting started with technology licenses from Young’s group at the Whitehead Institute and from Bradner’s group at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The risk, as with any biotech company at such an early stage, is all about the things researchers don’t know. Since it’s not going after already validated targets, it’s possible that some of the targets might be too frequently expressed in healthy cells, or the drug candidates made to hit them could cause some other form of toxicity.

While Simonian brings a wealth of experience and industry contacts to the CEO role, the majority of Syros’s early team—five of the first nine—are former graduate students and postdocs who worked under the founders, Simonian says. The senior management team includes Scott Rakestraw (formerly of Altus Pharmaceuticals) as chief business officer; Gregg Beloff (formerly of Archemix) as chief financial officer; Christian Fritz (formerly of Infinity Pharmaceuticals) as the vice president of biology, and Kevin Sprott (formerly of Verastem and Ironwood Pharmaceuticals), as the senior director of chemistry.

The name of the company, for those curious, appears to have nothing to do with the science. It comes from the name of a Greek island. The VCs at Arch and Flagship liked it, Cole says, because they had good luck with another company named after a Greek island—Agios Pharmaceuticals.

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