Pfizer, Novartis, BMS join $45M round for early fibrotic disease startup

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A trio of pharmas have bought into the early vision of startup Blade Therapeutics. Pfizer Venture Investments, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) all came in to the $45 million Series B round for the startup, which aims to address novel targets in fibrotic disease. It expects to get into the clinic with this financing.

Founded in the fall of 2015, Blade is based upon technology in-licensed from Johns Hopkins University, in particular, on work from the lab of Dr. Harry Dietz--a professor of genetics and medicine at the university and the company’s founder. His work focuses on the cause of a pair of fibrotic diseases: Marfan Syndrome and Stiff Skin Syndrome, which forms the basis of Blade’s investigation into new biological pathways involved in tissue fibrosis and dysfunction.

“Luke Evnin, our chair, had been funding work through the Scleroderma Research Foundation for our founder. He was watching the technology mature and decided it was time to fund it,” Blade CEO Wendye Robbins told FierceBiotech. MPM Capital’s Evnin has served as the chairman of the Scleroderma Research Foundation since 2002.

“With the developments in fibrosis, including the acquisition of InterMune by Roche, we put together Dr. Deitz’s technology with the team,” she added. InterMune, with its late-stage drug for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, was acquired by Roche ($RHHBY) for $8.3 billion in 2014.

The South San Francisco, CA-based startup got $500,000 in debt in May of 2015 to in-license the technology and form the company. Then it pulled off a $6.5 million Series A with Evnin’s MPM Capital and Osage University Partners, both of which also participated in the latest round. The company has already nominated a lead series of molecules.

Deerfield Management led the latest round alongside Pfizer ($PFE), with the existing investors participated at their full pro-rata. William Slattery and Cameron Wheeler from Deerfield and Elaine Jones from Pfizer Venture are joining the Blade board with the financing.

“Blade has identified opportunities to significantly advance the treatment of fibrotic conditions with disease-modifying therapies,” said Deerfield’s Slattery in a statement. “Blade has rapidly expanded the understanding of the biology of fibrosis, enabling the discovery of new molecules that have the potential to prevent the onset of disease as well as reverse its advances.”

The in-licensed technology is “very novel and very exciting,” Robbins said. “It appears to have activity against the cytoskeletal changes in fibrosis in multiple organs ... The mechanism of action is binding to a very novel and relatively unknown intracellular protease that seems to be very fundamental to tissue organization.”

"Our technology is involved in halting fibrosis progression. We hope to repair tissue architecture by blocking critical components of myofibroblast differentiation," she summed up.

- here's the release

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