iPierian Nabs $28M, With New Backing From Glaxo and Biogen Idec, To Use Stem Cells for Drug Discovery

9/8/10Follow @xconomy

One of the Bay Area’s promising stem cell startups just got a big shot of cash from a couple of major pharmaceutical players in Boston. South San Francisco-based iPierian is announcing today it has secured a full $28 million in its Series B venture round, which includes GlaxoSmithKline’s SR One venture arm, along with Biogen Idec New Ventures, as new investors.

The financing isn’t a big surprise, given that iPierian already announced back in July that it had raised $22 million in a round led by Google Ventures. What’s really new is that a couple of corporate venture funds, Glaxo and Biogen Idec, decided to join the syndicate a couple months later.

“The strategic funds have come in at the price that was set by the Google Ventures investment,” says iPierian CEO Michael Venuti. The corporate venture funds “take a little longer on their diligence, they run it through their research groups,” Venuti says. “It was a great opportunity for further validation.”

For now, anyway, the Glaxo and Biogen Idec investments are strictly financial, Venuti says, and aren’t part of any broader collaboration with iPierian. That’s one of the startup’s main goals, to find a big pharma or biotech partner that will agree to help further develop its technology for transforming ordinary adult cells into a stem cell-like state. Unlike embryonic stem cells, these cells, known as induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSCs), are not being designed as regenerative cell therapies for people with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. Instead, iPierian’s plan is to coax this type of stem cell into all kinds of cell types, like, for example, motor neurons of a patient with Alzheimer’s, so that pharma companies can test a variety of drugs against those cells in the lab dish.

While this process has only been around for a couple of years in academic labs, iPierian is seeking to make the process low-cost, reproducible, and consistent enough that it’s worthy of big investment from Big Pharma. Just in case anyone is wondering, iPierian doesn’t do any work with embryonic stem cells, the controversial line of work that has been stalled in recent weeks by a ruling from a federal judge who struck down a new policy the Obama Administration developed to finance more of the work.

By avoiding work on embryonic stem cells, iPierian is also avoiding any slowdown or confusion about the future of its work, Venuti says. It would be safe to say the drug company money wouldn’t flow to iPierian if there was really any doubt about the company’s work being put on hold.

“The field is moving fast and we are definitely at the front edge of how to industrialize the technology,” Venuti says.

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