A well-connected Pronutria revs up amino acid research with $39M C round

Cambridge, MA-based Pronutria, a graduate of Flagship's VentureLabs that recently attracted some high-profile R&D talent, has put the finishing touches to a $39 million C round designed to advance a pipeline of therapeutic-strength amino acid drugs in the clinic.

Rajiv Kaul's Fidelity Management & Research Company came in on the latest round as a new investor alongside Flagship, a bellwether venture group with a strong appetite for early-stage academic research. Flagship helped recruit Vertex's ($VRTX) high-profile chief scientist Peter Mueller for the research helm at Pronutria last December--soon after his exit from the big biotech.

With this latest round Pronutria has the financial fuel to get through next year, advancing new clinical studies, looking for proof-of-concept data for a round of programs based on a platform with wide-ranging potential. The biotech has now raised a total of $65 million and by the end of this year execs expect to see the staff grow from 34 to about 50.

Pronutria has been working on identifying the proteins found in your everyday diet in order to determine what kind of therapeutic doses can be used to treat a host of diseases. At the right strength, Pronutria believes these kinds of drugs could be used one day to treat diabetes or inflammatory bowel disease and more. Myopenia, or muscle loss, makes a logical initial focus for clinical development.

Pronutria CEO Robert Connelly

"We are the architects of a new modality," says CEO Robert Connelly. And while the biotech is primarily focused on developing a new class of drugs, it's not overlooking the potential for supplements.

"We are about amino acid biology," Connelly adds. "What we're doing here, to some extent, is mimicking nature. Food is loaded with intact proteins, breaks it down and delivers amino acids to the bloodstream. We have to find proteins with the right amino acids which can be orally ingested and delivered with the right timing, PK and PD."

Pronutria tipped off the industry about this round with an SEC filing in March, including a list of officers and directors that make up a who's who in Boston biotech circles. Connelly, a venture partner at Flagship Ventures, was the founding CEO of Domantis in the U.K. Flagship Managing Partner Noubar Afeyan and Flagship Partner David Berry joined MIT's Charles Cooney, Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, attorney Peter Hutt, John Mendlein, CEO of aTyr Pharma and vice chairman of Fate Therapeutics, and others on the board.

Pronutria has been fairly quiet over the past 4 years, but Connelly is eager to turn up the volume with the C round. Platform companies with the technology and connections of a biotech like this have the potential to strike a lineup of industry collaborations, and Pronutria is looking to get busy at the bargaining table as it starts to discuss the data that it is generating.

Special Report: The 25 most influential people in biopharma in 2015 - Noubar Afeyan, Flagship Ventures - Rajiv Kaul, Fidelity Investments