Bluebird's gene therapy song attracts $30M venture round

Arch Venture Partners has joined a group of top venture players to help back Cambridge, MA-based bluebird bio with a $30 million venture commitment, capping a $35 million round completed a little more than a year ago.

Bluebird's fattened bank account extends the biotech's development runway past the point where it can highlight human clinical data on its gene therapy treatments. Third Rock Ventures, TVM Capital, Forbion Capital Partners and Easton Capital Investment Group all joined in the round and Arch managing partner Steven Gillis will now jump on the developer's board of directors.

"This is an opportunistic financing for the company," CEO Nick Leschly tells FierceBiotech. The added money gives bluebird the chance to make a few more hires--most concentrated in R&D--while getting more aggressive on its clinical trial strategy. The new money will "fund ourselves to and past a major inflection in the next couple of years."

At the top of the to-do list this year is enrolling patients for clinical trials of its treatments for childhood cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy and beta-thalassemia/sickle cell anemia. Bluebird plans to demonstrate the potential of its approach: Taking stem cells from a patient's bone marrow, adding a healthy version of a disease-causing gene and then growing it in culture before returning the treatment back to the patient. And Leschly is keen to use the added attention from the Arch round to help him line up key partnerships with deep-pocket partners.

Says Leschly: "Sixty-five million doesn't get you that far in drug development. So we'll be looking at partnerships over the next 12 to 24 months."

In addition to the financing, bluebird has taken several big steps forward in the last few weeks. The gene therapy pioneer named Alexandre LeBeaut as its new chief medical officer, signed up an impressive roster of experts for its scientific advisory board and inked a $4.2 million pact with the French Muscular Dystrophy Association.

- here's the press release

ALSO: Berkeley, CA-based Aduro BioTech raised more than $19 million from its Series B round, which included current investors and Morningside Ventures. In addition, Ms. Stephanie O'Brien, who represents Morningside, has joined Aduro's Board of Directors. "This new round of funding enables us to advance our lead cancer vaccine, CRS-207, into a Phase 2 clinical trial in pancreatic cancer," said Stephen Isaacs, chairman and chief executive officer of Aduro. "In addition, these funds will support initial clinical development of CRS-207 for other indications and preclinical development of therapeutic vaccines for prostate cancer and melanoma as well as prophylactic vaccines for malaria and tularemia." Release