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Energesis Pharmaceuticals, Co-Founded by Sirtris Vet, Seeks to Tap Power of “Good Fat” in Fighting Obesity and Diabetes

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expends energy, rather than the traditional focus on trying to suppress a patient’s appetite through interacting with brain cell receptors, or to somehow block the absorption of nutrients in the gut to limit the intake of calories. Brown fat, or so-called good fat, can be a powerful ally against regular stored fat in the body. It features a protein called uncoupling protein-1 that helps dissipate energy and contributes to weight loss, according to Energesis.

“Olivier and I actually met about five years ago at an MIT networking event and discovered that we had a common interest in developing better approaches to obesity and diabetes,” Freeman says. “As the brown fat story was taking off about a year and a half ago, he came to me and said that [he] had invented this technology and asked what I thought of it.”

The startup’s technology addresses one of the biggest drug markets today. About a third of American adults were considered obese based on statistics gathered from 2007 to 2008, according to a January 2010 paper published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Obesity is a major risk factor in the development of diabetes, which affected nearly 8 percent of the U.S. population as of 2008, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, drug developers have had limited success in delivering new obesity drugs to the market. Last month the FDA turned down San Diego-based Arena Pharmaceuticals’s (NASDAQ:ARNA) request for U.S. approval of a weight-loss drug, lorcaserin, at the very least delaying what the biotech had hoped would be its first approved drug. And Wyeth’s fen-phen combination therapy disaster in the 1990s caused the company to set aside $22 billion for legal settlements after patients who took the weight-loss drug had suffered damaged heart valves. The list goes on, of course.

Still, these failures also leave an open field, however risky it is, for newcomers to provide solutions to the obesity epidemic in this country. At the very least, Energesis has impressed enough entrepreneurs to win the MassChallenge award last month. Yet the company still has a lot of ground to cover. Freeman says that the firm plans to focus over the next two and a half years on identifying a lead drug candidate that has been proven in animal models of the firm’s disease targets. They’ve already identified several classes of molecules that could yield a drug. Then the treatment would have to make its way through rigorous human clinical trials to prove that it’s safe and effective.

Energesis isn’t the only biotech company that sees potential in targeting brown fat to treat metabolic disease. For instance, Cambridge, MA-based Acceleron Pharma has discovered a protein-based drug that has shown in early animal studies to to increase brown fat and provide metabolic benefits such as a decrease of (bad) white fat tissue.

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  • Energesis has Boston University connections: Brian Freeman has a Boston University faculty appointment (Department of Neurology at BMC) and the company is in the BU Kindle Mentoring Program.