Amid pharma talks, Ember Therapeutics notches win for obesity program

Boston-based startup Ember Therapeutics scored new data on its brown fat program to take into partnership talks at the J.P. Morgan conference this week in San Francisco, giving the young biotech's executives proof that its early-stage work could lead to breakthrough drugs for obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The company--which landed a $34 million Series A round of funding late last year from founding backer Third Rock Ventures--said today that its scientific founder's latest study published in Nature shows that a hormone called irisin, injected into rotund mice, helped the rodents drop weight and get their blood sugar levels under control. Importantly, there were no toxicity issues associated with the injections that would raise red flags about safety, which is always a key concern for diet drugs tested in humans.

The hormone appeared to trigger white fat, the energy-packing fat that builds into flab, to act like brown fat, which actually burns energy to keep the body warm, according to the study led by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

With a number of programs targeting brown fat pathways, Ember offers an early-stage opportunity in the alluring obesity and diabetes fields. Even in its infancy, the company is attracting attention from some deep-pocked parties in pharma, CEO Lou Tartaglia indicated in an interview with Bloomberg.

"We are in fact seeing quite a lot of major pharma companies and have been approached by quite a number, and have been in discussions to see what deal structure makes sense for us," Tartaglia told Bloomberg. "Perhaps there will be a partner in the future to develop a broad relationship in brown fat."

- here's the release
- get more in the Bloomberg article