Pfizer, NEA help supply Cydan’s second startup with a $31M launch round

Cambridge, MA, and Boston

The biotech builders at Cydan Development have launched their second rare-disease venture, gathering a $31 million cash cache from a group of A-list backers that includes Pfizer and New Enterprise Associates. And the two principal executives at Cambridge, MA-based Cydan say the move signals a new phase for the accelerator, as they pick up the pace on ramping up new companies.

This new operation is dubbed Imara, which will be helmed for now by the accelerator’s chief scientific officer and co-founder, James McArthur, who’s now recruiting a virtual crew of about 4 to manage clinical development work. They will be working on a small molecule program for sickle cell disease brought in from Lundbeck.

Imara follows the same build-out model Cydan used for its premier play, Vtesse. The accelerator has been following up on hundreds of potential leads, looking for rare disease drugs outside of oncology that can be brought in and used to launch a new company, with Series A cash coming from a select syndicate: NEA, Pfizer Venture Investments, Lundbeckfond Ventures, Bay City Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments.

Imara’s drug IMR-687 fit the bill neatly. The drug is a phosphodiesterase 9 inhibitor, or PDE9, a member of a big family of enzymes that play a number of roles in medicine. In this case, the drug is designed to have an impact on the pathology of the disease in both red and white blood cells. Imara will test the drug in adults as well as juveniles, looking to see if it can advance a therapy that can prevent damage that can’t be reversed later.

It’s part of Cydan’s business model to put its top prospects through IND-enabling preclinical work ahead of a launch, and this drug should be in healthy volunteers later in the year and on to the first patients in 2017.

“We've looked at over 600 projects so far over the last three years,” says McArthur, About 50 of those drugs warranted a serious close-up, 16 have been through Cydan’s preclinical qualifying round and now the accelerator expects to have three or four more startups ready to go over the next 18 months.

The Cydan team has also used the past two years to get to know its selected arena of rare diseases better. “We’ve selected 30 to 50 (rare) diseases where we know a hell of a lot about the competitive space and the science around it,” says Cydan CEO Chris Adams. “Now we can see the potential more clearly.”

What distinguishes the company from other incubators, Adams adds, is the ability to engage in “seamless” company creation, taking a project from a biopharma company’s shelf, shuttling it through the preclinical stage and then on to a venture-backed portfolio company which can explore a future for itself—without stopping at each juncture. And their venture backers have helped open doors to new deals, such as when the folks at Lundbeckfond introduced them to the clinical execs at Lundbeck, who have worked in the PDE space around schizophrenia but have no mandate to go into sickle cell disease.

That development path has put Vtesse on track to unveil pivotal data for its Niemann-Pick Type C1 disease drug next year, just a little more than two years after it launched.  A few months ago the biotech won the FDA’s breakthrough therapy designation, which should keep them on an inside track with regulators in the lead up to a pivotal readout.

- here's the release