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Protein Biotech Lands $51.5M in First Venture Round

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(stevepb, Pixabay)

30 June 2016. A new spin-off biotechnology enterprise from Harvard University developing therapies that block signaling proteins causing disease, is raising $51.5 million its first venture funding round. This first-round financing for Morphic Therapeutic in Waltham, Massachusetts is led by the venture capital arms of pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.

Morphic Therapeutic creates small molecule, or low molecular weight, treatments that block the activity of integrins, a class of proteins in humans and other animals that attach cell skeletons to the extracellular matrix, the network of molecules providing structural and biochemical support for cells. Integrins provide signaling pathways going into the cell from outside, and out of the cell from inside, acting as receptors for binding molecules affecting cell activities, as well as other proteins. Many biological processes function normally with integrins, but when integrins send aberrant signals, a number of diseases can result.

Timothy Springer, an immunologist and biophysicist at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, has studied integrins since the 1980s. His lab’s research led to early treatments — administered with injections — already approved to address integrins associated with a number of diseases: multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, plaque psoriasis, acute coronary syndrome, and complications during procedures implanting a stent to open arteries.

Springer founded Morphic Therapeutic to bring to market more recent research with small molecule compounds that could lead to oral drugs rather than injections. The company says that technology licensed from Springer’s lab at Harvard is designed to overcome challenges that up to now prevented development of small-molecule oral drugs blocking signaling activity of integrin targets in diseased tissue. Morphic expects to design treatments for immunological diseases, fibrotic and vascular disorders, and neoplastic conditions, those causing abnormal growth of tissue from rapid or uncontrolled cell division.

The company’s first financing round is lead by SR One, the venture capital arm of GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer Venture investments. Joining the round are AbbVie Ventures, another pharmaceutical venture group, as well as Omega Ventures. Polaris Partners, ShangPharma Investment Group, Schrödinger Inc., and Springer himself were original seed investors. The $51.5 million raised is expected to support research and development of multiple drug candidates into clinical trials.

Original investor Schrödinger Inc., a company making software for computational biology, is also collaborating with Morphic on design and discovery of small molecule drug candidates.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Pfizer.

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