Third Rock's faded Ember gets resuscitated in merger deal

Ember Therapeutics, a Third Rock Ventures-founded biotech startup that closed its doors late last year, is getting a second chance thanks to a small New York drug developer.

Mariel Therapeutics, which came on the scene last year with some assets acquired from Stryker ($SYK), is merging with Ember to get its hands on the biotech's intellectual property. Neither side is disclosing financial details, but the plan is to carry on under the Ember moniker, pooling the two companies' assets into a pipeline focused on cartilage- and fibrosis-related diseases.

Ember, a 2012 Fierce 15 honoree, got off the ground more than three years ago with a $34 million commitment from Third Rock and a decorated team of scientists planning to investigate the therapeutic potential of calorie-burning brown fat. However, as Luke Timmerman first reported last month, the company quietly shut down in December after struggling to find the partners it needed to move forward in obesity and diabetes, expensive pursuits for a venture-backed biotech. Founding CEO Lou Tartaglia had departed over the summer to lead the RNAi-focused Solstice Biologics, leaving Third Rock to figure out what to do with Ember's intellectual property, Timmerman reported.

And that's where Mariel comes in.

In 2012, while ramping up its R&D operation, Ember signed a deal with Boston's Joslin Diabetes Center for the rights to technology that uses a protein called BMP-7 to manipulate brown fat levels. It so happens that BMP-7, or bone morphogenetic protein 7, also plays a part in the growth of cartilage and, potentially, the reversal of fibrosis, according to Mariel. The same protein is the target of the roughly 450 Stryker patents Mariel acquired this summer, and merging with Ember allows the biotech to pad its IP portfolio as it focuses on osteoarthritis, chronic kidney disease (CKD) and organ fibrosis conditions.

Once the deal is complete, Mariel believes it will have what it needs to carve out a name for itself with BMP-7. The company now has a Phase IIb-ready treatment for osteoarthritis and is nearing clinical trials with therapies for CKD and Alport's syndrome, a rare genetic kidney disease.

"This transaction further enhances the clinical utility and efficacy of BMP-7 in diverse applications and gives us access to novel delivery technologies for BMP-7," Mariel Chairman Joseph Hernandez said in a statement. "The combined pipeline and intellectual property are expected to have a profound impact in areas of unmet medical needs."

- read the announcement

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2012 Fierce 15 - Ember Therapeutics