Receptos, Led By Biogen Idec Vets and Scripps Stars, Snags $25M For Drug Discovery Engine

11/23/09Follow @xconomy

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in the early days for what it really has in store, and that’s creating a pipeline of its own proprietary drugs.

“We’re not a virtual entity. We’re a serious engine,” Boehm says, for pumping out new drug candidates for clinical trials. Chrysa Mineo, the company’s vice president of business development, says the strategy is to develop “first-in-class, best-in-class” new therapies.

Receptos already has about 20 employees, led by Rastetter. Boehm was formerly VP of chemistry at Conforma Therapeutics until that company was acquired by Biogen Idec in 2006, and he stayed at Biogen after that. Mineo is a 20-year biotech veteran who got her start at Amgen and most recently worked on partnerships for San Diego-based Neurocrine Biosciences and its GPCR neurology drug candidates. Robert Peach, the vice president of biology and co-founder, was most recently the senior director of oncology discovery at Biogen Idec.

With all those connections to Biogen, the world’s largest maker of multiple sclerosis drugs, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Receptos has picked a lead drug candidate for that particular neurodegenerative disease. The goal will be to develop an oral pill for MS that will reduce immune system flare-ups that damage nerves, while preserving the function of the nerves, Boehm says. That drug is being slated for clinical trials next year.

It was really the combination of the top-tier management team led by Rastetter, the scientific platform from Stevens (a proven entrepreneur who co-founded Syrrx and MemRx), and the fact that it has a drug poised to enter clinical trials that enabled Receptos to win so much funding in a difficult financial climate, Stevens says. “We have them all pulled together here,” he says.

Of course, since Stevens published that highly acclaimed paper in 2007, other groups around the world have sought to improve the characterization of GPCR drug targets as well. U.K.-based Heptares Therapeutics is also pursuing new methods of getting a better look at these targets. Last month, the Novartis Option Fund bought an option on the technology that could be worth more than $200 million over time. “We have a tremendous respect for Heptares,” Rosen says.

All this work is still at a very early stage, so there’s obviously a lot more science to talk about than medical evidence that says its drugs are on the right track. Those questions will come later, but for now, the Receptos group sounds jazzed about how anything’s possible.

“It’s the combination of technology, with the human capital, that really makes this interesting,” Mineo says. Rosen adds: “It’s worth investing our time, and that’s the most precious resource of all that we can give.”

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  • Debra Rosen