GSK venture group backs SpringLeaf in $15M round

SpingLeaf Therapeutics has closed a $15 million Series B round of venture capital to advance its first drug-device combination product toward the clinic, with GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) venture unit, SR One, leading the financing deal.

Boston-based SpringLeaf (fka Entra Pharmaceuticals) also garnered backing in the round from previous Boston-area investors Flybridge Capital Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners, both of which were in on the company's $12 million Series A round in 2008. SR One partner Brian Gallagher is joining the company's board in connection with the deal. With the new cash infusion, the startup aims to have its device for delivering an as-yet-undisclosed biologic drug ready for human testing by the end of 2012, CEO Frank Bobe tells FierceBiotech.

Bobe won't say exactly what the firm's lead product will treat, but he did say that it's for a chronic disease. And today to get the biologic drug in the firm's experimental device, patients typically go to a clinic once every three weeks to have it given to them intravenously. The company's device, which used technology invented in the MIT lab of battery expert Yet-Ming Chiang, is intended to enable a patient to give the drug to herself at home.

The device benefits a great deal from expertise into what causes batteries to expand and contract, Bobe explains. While this change in shape is usually problematic because it causes batteries to wear out over time, Chiang's lab figured out how to channel it in a way that allows the shape change to power a pump that moves drugs through a small plastic tube and into a space just below a patient's skin. Chiang, who is widely known for founding advanced battery maker A123 Systems ($AONE), co-founded SpingLeaf in 2007 with MIT engineering professor Michael Cima, whose previous life sciences startups include T2 Biosystems, MicroChips and Taris Biomedical. At SpingLeaf, the two entrepreneurial professors have teamed up to advance the firm's single-use device, which adheres to the skin and would come with the drug pre-loaded in it.

The device could be used for numerous drugs, but Bobe says that his firm wants to focus initially on its lead product. "We are very focused at this stage on that first drug-device combination," he says. "As you always have with companies at this stage of development, it's all about focus and it's all about doing something that is clinically relevant and has impact."

It's hard for us to say very much about the technology's impact without knowing which patients the firm aims to treat. However, the unique power mechanism for the device is supposed to help it deliver treatments that are contained in thick, or highly viscous, solutions. That might set this technology apart from existing drug-delivery pumps, even ones that are also worn on the skin and offer patients a convenient alternative to standard injections of some drugs like insulin.

"This technology overcomes certain formulation challenges for novel drugs, and helps differentiate existing biopharmaceutical therapies, thus positioning SpringLeaf to both develop its own therapeutics and execute multiple partnership opportunities," SR One's Gallagher said in a statement.