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Sanofi, VCs Back Start-Up Deriving Natural Product Drugs

DNA strand (NSF)

(James. J. Caras, National Science Foundation)

The French drug maker Sanofi, with American venture capital (VC) companies Third Rock Ventures and Greylock Partners, are investing up to $125 million in Warp Drive Bio a new biotechnology company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Warp Drive Bio, being incubated at Third Rock Ventures, specializes in using genomics to derive drug candidates from natural sources, such as microbes.

Third Rock Ventures founded Warp Drive Bio with Harvard University chemical biologist Gregory Verdine. Also co-founding the company are Harvard geneticist George Church and University of California – San Francisco professor of pharmaceutical chemistry James Wells.

Warp Drive Bio is developing a technology based on genomics to create therapies targeting biological pathways. The technology would systematically uncover drug candidates based on genomic signatures of naturally occurring microbes. Sanofi will give Warp Drive Bio access to its strains library and natural product expertise. In return, Sanofi will be granted certain access rights to Warp Drive Bio’s technology and products.

“Prior to Warp Drive Bio, no one had created a comprehensive discovery engine that selectively mines from nature those products with transformative pharmaceutical potential,” says Verdine. “Warp Drive Bio has developed that capability and is using it to discover powerful next-generation drugs that target the central circuitry of human cells in completely new ways.”

The investors plan to provide up to $75 million in equity and an additional $50 million in initial capital to move Warp Drive Bio’s technology to the proof-of-concept stage. Sanofi also retains an option to acquire Warp Drive Bio if certain milestones are met. The five-year deal does not preclude Warp Drive Bio from establishing other partnerships.

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