Nestlé pays $42.5M to buy into Pronutria as it blazes a trail to pivotal data

Pronutria CEO Robert Connelly

Pronutria Biosciences in Cambridge, MA, has added a $42.5 million investment stake from Nestlé Health Science as it maps a route to late-stage research for its amino acid R&D platform.

The fresh injection of capital comes just 10 months after Pronutria landed a $39 million C round. This new injection of capital brings its total raise to a hefty $112 million.

Pronutria is an amazingly well-connected company. Spawned by Flagship's Noubar Afeyan, it's run by ex-Domantis CEO Robert Connelly and lured Peter Mueller from Vertex ($VRTX) to take the top research post. Its board includes former Sanofi ($SNY) CEO Chris Viehbacher, who will now be joined by Greg Behar, the Nestlé Health Science CEO.

This new stake from Nestlé helps illustrate the biotech's ambitions. Taking a cue from nature, Pronutria is developing a new way to develop proteins that can deliver therapeutic doses of amino acids to the bloodstream. And the little company has some big goals on the horizon. Muscle loss, or sarcopenia, is its first focus for a lead drug dubbed PN-107. 

"We already have Phase I equivalent data with 107" that offers proof-of-concept insights, Connelly tells me this morning. Aside from muscle wasting, the biotech is also gearing up proof-of-concept studies on new approaches to neuro and liver diseases, with an eye to getting started on pivotal studies next year and on to the first late-stage data in 2018. And with this Nestlé deal, adds the CEO, the company has the money it needs to reach that point.

In addition, says Connelly, there's considerable potential for Nestlé to jump in directly on the development side.

Connelly is keeping the other looming trials under wraps for now, but says Pronutria isn't very far from pulling the veils off those targets. With 54 staffers, the biotech can pursue a mix of orphan drug studies while also going after big fields like muscle loss, which afflicts a large population in the over-50 crowd. Pronutria is anything but flashy, but Connelly says his recently recruited deals chief, biotech vet Garry Menzel, will likely be working on some newsworthy pacts this year.

For Nestlé, the decision to buy into Pronutria fits into its plan to invest more into health sciences. It's also invested in Seres ($MCRB), another Cambridge, MA-based biotech, and plans to do more deals in the near future.

- here's the release