Novartis joins an Atlas syndicate to back cancer drug upstart Raze

Jason Rhodes, partner at Atlas Venture

Atlas Venture is launching one of its newly built biotechs with a Series A of $24 million, a founding partner on the board, a pair of its entrepreneurs heading the crew and some marquee investors in the syndicate, which includes Novartis ($NVS). They've begun a voyage of discovery with Raze Therapeutics, part of Atlas's growing fleet of startups, to see how far they can go down a pathway that offers its investigators a shot at throwing a monkey wrench into the metabolic processes cancer uses to thrive.

Atlas gathered the money following its seed investment by joining with Novartis, MPM Capital Management, MS Ventures, Partners Innovation Fund and Astellas Venture Management on the investor syndicate. Partner Peter Barrett is chairing the Cambridge, MA-based biotech venture, with entrepreneur-in-residence Adam Friedman taking charge of corporate development. New Atlas partner Jason Rhodes, until recently the president of Epizyme ($EPZM), is taking the helm as interim CEO.

"Atlas founded the company in 2013," Rhodes tell FierceBiotech, setting it up with a core team of three--Atlas is well known for its thrift--and a crew of consultants. 

The big idea at Raze is to disrupt the anabolic pathway that cancer uses to sustain itself and grow in a variety of ways, including building biomass. Atlas has grown some deep roots in the scientific community, says Rhodes, and knew that three prominent researchers--Dr. Vamsi Mootha of Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Joshua Rabinowitz of Princeton and Dr. David Sabatini of the Whitehead Institute--were all working in this field. 

Atlas brought the three together to provide the scientific foundation for Raze, and Rhodes also notes that the experienced biotech vet Michael Gilman, who had run Stromedix before Biogen Idec ($BIIB) bought out the company and brought him back into the company for a short stint, played an instrumental role in creating the company. Gilman will continue on as a member of the scientific board.

This kind of a platform could play a role in treating a variety of tumors and hematologic malignancies, Rhodes adds, which will give Raze a chance to develop its own pipeline while partnering with others to help add some nondilutive cash and collaborative research firepower to the fledgling operation.  

One of Rhodes' first tasks, though, will be to build up the leadership team needed to move the company forward.

- here's the release

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