Astellas, biotech VCs to pump $14M into virtual drug developer

Venture firms have teamed up with drugmaker Astellas Pharma to advance a startup called Telsar Pharma. Astellas and the venture firms, Interwest Partners and Sutter Hill Ventures, plan to invest $14 million into Telsar, which was formed to develop a drug from Astellas' pipeline for treating ulcerative colitis.

Telsar is operating virtually under the management of Drais Pharmaceuticals, which also counts InterWest and Sutter among its investors. Drais, based in Bridgewater, NJ, plans to work with Astellas to determine whether other Astellas' compounds can be pumped into Telsar's pipeline, the companies said. Telsar's first drug licensed from Astellas, ASP3291, is a melanocortin receptor agonist that could combat ulcerative colitis, a disease that causes painful inflammation in the colon and rectum.

The Drais team previously ran AkaRx, which Eisai bought in 2010 for $300 million, according to a Drais spokesperson. Astellas, InterWest and Sutter were all investors in AkaRx as well.

The virtual model has become hot. Investors are seeking efficient ways to bring biotech products to market, and rather than build new teams to develop experimental treatments, venture firms and biotech entrepreneurs have favored strategies like Telsar's that make use of existing resources. Last week, for instance, the founders and backers of drug developer Allena Pharmaceuticals revealed that they had formed a nutritional products startup called Alcresta, with the Allena team serving as the only full-time employees of Alcresta. Investors are seeking efficient ways to bring biotech products to market.  

- here's the release