Celgene pays $15M for front-row seat on Acetylon myeloma program

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Since its launch back in 2009, Boston-based Acetylon Pharmaceuticals has fueled its work on a next-gen HDAC inhibitor with $40 million drawn from wealthy individual backers as well as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation. But with its lead program in a classic Phase Ia dose-escalation safety study, Celgene has stepped in with a $15 million strategic investment that buys it a front-row seat on new technology that could play a future role in a combo therapy utilizing Revlimid.

Celgene isn't gaining a license or option on ACY-1215, its HDAC6 enzyme inhibitor, CEO Walter Ogier emphasizes, but it's been keen to gain an observation post on the board. Acetylon, meanwhile, is adding some welcome commercial expertise to help guide its development work with the arrival of Mark Alles, Celgene's chief commercial officer, on the board.

The cash injection will help Acetylon get more aggressive with its development strategy, Ogier tells FierceBiotech. A Phase Ib study that combines its HDAC6 inhibitor with Millennium's Velcade is planned to start later in the year. A combo study with Revlimid is a distinct possibility. And Ogier says a mid-stage study could get underway in 2013--or 2014. The CEO isn't quite ready to tie himself down to a hard-and-fast schedule.

He is happy, though, to project an increase in staff from 13 to 20 as the biotech gets deeper into the clinic. And there's a chance that a partnership could be struck around the HDAC inhibitor's potential as a treatment for inflammation or neurodegeneration. There are other projects in those areas in which a "partnership would be well advised."

Acetylon has been building on the research work of a group of scientists that include Kenneth Anderson at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Stuart Schreiber at Harvard University. Its investors include Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, Marc A. Cohen, chairman of the board at Acetylon, along with Bruce L. Downey, former CEO of Barr Pharmaceuticals and Elena Prokupets, former CEO of Lenel Systems International.

- here's the press release