Developing new approaches to fibrotic disease that could work across several disorders
CEO: Dr. Wendye Robbins
Based: South San Francisco, CA
Clinical focus: Fibrotic diseases
The scoop: Luke Evnin took a long time watching the research develop in fibrosis before leaping into the fray. He’s done so in a big way as his firm, MPM Capital, is backing a big-picture startup in the field, Blade Therapeutics.
Founded last year, Blade is based on tech 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 research 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.
“Every organ system has its own fibrotic complications, heart, lung, kidney,” Evnin told FierceBiotech. “The initial insult is different for each of those organ systems. We want an antifibrotic that could address all of those. If you actually had that therapeutic, it could have broad clinical implications with huge market potential.”
What makes Blade Fierce: A trio of pharmas have bought into Blade’s early vision: 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.
“We got three strategic partners to join the syndicate,” said the company’s CEO, Wendye Robbins. “They have seen every mechanism in the field, and they wanted to be part of what we’re doing at Blade. That’s always reassuring. We felt passionately, but it’s great to get that kind of broad-based confirmation from sophisticated partners. Our partners are adding value from the start, but it was a challenge to get that put together.”
The biotech expects this financing to be sufficient to get into the clinic. It expects to nominate a development candidate during the second half of next year, which it then hopes to get into the clinic by the second half of 2018. Blade also expects to advance a second, undisclosed fibrotic disease candidate that has a new, undisclosed target.
Blade plans to do more technology licensing deals, and it is currently looking at a number of different programs, Robbins said. She’s looking for safe, important, novel targets that have clean pharmacology and could be part of developing a pipeline of broadly applicable fibrotic disease candidates.
Evnin described the ongoing process for Blade’s preclinical candidate evaluation: “There’s a set of cellular and animal assays that are part of the portfolio of assays that help you validate whether or not you have an antifibrotic in hand. They are only models,” he cautioned. “Fibrosis in vivo is pretty complicated. We try them in a range of models and try to look for consistency of performance with different cell types, organ systems in these animals. Across the lung, kidney, skin, liver, we look for dramatic and consistent performance.”
Investors: Deerfield Management, Pfizer Venture Investments, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Bristol-Myers Squibb, MPM Capital and Osage University Partners