Constellation banks $22M for ambitious epigenetics play

Constellation Pharmaceuticals has bagged $22 million in a new venture round that will bankroll an aggressive startup biotech with ambitious plans to make a reputation for itself in the emerging field of epigenetics.

Originally launched under the leadership of Third Rock Ventures' Mark Levin with additional funds from The Column Group, Venrock, and Altitude Life Science Ventures, Constellation's Series B was led by SR One, the high-profile venture arm of GlaxoSmithKline. And it brings their total venture haul to $54 million, says CEO Mark Goldsmith, M.D., Ph.D., who has shepherded the rapid buildup of the company's sizable scientific staff.

Goldsmith isn't laying out much by way of a development timeline. The Cambridge, MA-based developer expects to identify at least one clinical development candidate in 2011, Goldsmith tells FierceBiotech, and there's enough money to significantly advance work on three lead programs. But any development timeline will be influenced by the compounds it chooses to focus on and the overall state of affairs at the company. And epigenetics can play a role in a broad range of diseases, including cancer, inflammation and immune ailments.

"We're not focusing on a single class or a small number of targets," explains Goldsmith, who's focused on developing the company's "broad-based capability" in fine tuning how DNA can influence disease. But with a staff of 50--large for a biotech still at the preclinical stage of development--Goldsmith has some definite ideas on pursuing collaborations sooner rather than later.

Partnering is "the next step," he says. The extra money will help finance the company's development and acts as "a way of demonstrating that others with expertise in drug discovery and development believe that what we have is special and high value."

- here's the Constellation release