Constellation Pharma takes different route than rival in hot epigenetics field

With plenty of science to explore but limited funds, a biotech startup often faces the challenge of where to focus its time and money. At Constellation Pharmaceuticals, CEO Mark Goldsmith tells Xconomy that his firm is placing bets on three areas of the emerging epigenetics field, believing that promising drug targets for cancer and other diseases exist in all of them.

The Cambridge, MA-based firm's strategy to spread its research efforts across three classes of epigenetic enzymes--which are involved in turning on or off certain disease genes and modulating chromatin structures--provides a clear point of differentiation from its crosstown rival Epizyme. Epizyme, another venture-based start-up, has been focusing its research efforts on one class of epigenetic enzymes called histone methlytransferases (HMTs).

There are certainly merits to both the firms' strategies. With its focus on HMTs, Epizyme has landed two deals this year with GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Eisai Pharmaceuticals that have brought the start-up a total of $26 million in upfront money and potential milestone payments of more than $800 million. While Constellation (a 2008 Fierce 15 company) hasn't revealed any such Big Pharma pacts, the firm is building up deep scientific expertise in epigenetics that could potentially provide a greater wealth of targets than its counterpart down the road.

In an endorsement of the startup's progress, Constellation's venture backers added $15 million to its Series B round announced earlier this month, giving the company more financial firepower to move ahead with its multiple research programs. And Goldsmith, whose company also has an HMT program, told FierceBiotech earlier this month that the firm hopes to enter the clinic with its lead compound by the end of 2012.

"We think it will be more powerful to take a holistic view of chromatin," Goldsmith told Xconomy in today's report.

- check out Xconomy's report

Special Report: Constellation Pharma - 2008 Fierce 15