Biotech vet Abbie Celniker takes helm at Eleven Biotherapeutics

The Millennium team that launched Third Rock Ventures has recruited a familiar face to helm Eleven Biotherapeutics, a Cambridge, MA-based upstart that is working to carve out a lucrative place for itself in the protein engineering world. Abbie Celniker, who headed Taligen and steered it into a $111 million-plus buyout deal with Alexion last year, is stepping in as CEO. And she's being joined with a new business chief, Chen Shor, who's coming in from the buy-side at Teva.

"It's like going home in a way," Celniker, who worked with the Third Rock founders at Millennium, tells FierceBiotech.

When FierceBiotech added Eleven Biotherapeutics to the roster of 2010 Fierce 15 companies, Third Rock co-founder Mark Levin--who then held the interim CEO title--made it clear that by this point Eleven would have a staff of close to 20 and be nearing a collaboration pact that could help advance the biotech without having to add to the $35 million A round. In fact, says Celniker, Eleven has already hit 25 full timers, has a lead program being prepped for clinical studies and another that will follow along 6 to 9 months later. A few more preclinical projects are being nurtured as well.

Celniker isn't ready to completely unveil the first molecule, but she adds it does have potential as a new therapy for front-of-the-eye inflammatory diseases. Partnership discussions are underway, but Celniker believes Eleven may have to wait until sometime next year before it starts highlighting any done deals.

A year from now Celniker says that Eleven should have some 30 or so FTEs, with a program in the clinic and partners to help fund operations.

Her longterm plans?  

"Right now, I am thinking and investors are thinking that this is really a company that can be built," she says. "We'd all like to see the next generation of biotech companies here. See the next Vertex, the next Gilead, that can create value for themselves. We would like to build a company that will be around for awhile and fill some of the gaps in pharma's innovation engine."

- here's the release

Special Report: Eleven Biotherapeutics - 2010 Fierce 15