Eleven adds $20M in venture cash as it preps for the clinic

Eleven Biotherapeutics has topped up its bank account with a $20 million injection of venture cash as it readies its first protein therapeutic for the clinic. Third Rock Ventures and Flagship Ventures have chipped in their final $10 million tranche to the Series A, while Japan's JAFCO has joined the venture team and added $10 million of their own, bringing the total A round to $45 million.

Yesterday Eleven, a 2010 Fierce 15 company, unveiled a look at the company's lead treatment, EBI-005, a preclinical topical protein therapy for dry eye syndrome. The biotech got started a couple of years ago after the founding venture groups brought some of the top minds in protein engineering to the table. They've been engineering the first protein therapy for ophthalmology--an IL-1 receptor inhibitor--that can be delivered with an eye dropper. And the developer plans to follow up with another ophthalmology candidate that will trail the lead program by about 12 months.

Getting JAFCO to join the venture group made a lot of sense strategically, says CEO Abbie Celniker. Japan has the second largest ophthalmology market in the world, and it makes a lot of sense to align the company more closely in a region where Japanese pharma companies have been keeping a keen eye on new therapies like the ones Eleven is bringing up the pipeline. 

Adding venture cash also marks an "evolution" of the company's original business strategy. Third Rock's Mark Levin had initially expected to hold the line at the original $35 million mark, expecting early-stage partnership dollars to fund the rest of the work. Adding JAFCO's contribution allows Eleven to bring its lead therapy up to the proof-of-concept phase. After the Phase I, which is slated to get under way before the end of the year, Eleven can design further trials, including a pivotal study. 

"We made the decision to take this to a bigger inflection point," says Celniker. "We're developing that molecule ourselves" and then regional partners can step in with non-dilutive funding. Celniker has also been keeping an eye on the M&A side of the industry. 

"It's sort of heated up over just the last quarter," says Celniker. In this ecosystem, biotechs are stepping up as the industry's innovation engine as Big Pharma continues to restructure R&D and pipelines. "I think we're going to see it heat up a little more," she adds. And if the trend continues, it might present interesting options for companies like Eleven.

- read the press release on the venture cash
- here's the release on EBI-005

Special Report: Eleven Biotherapeutics - 2010 Fierce 15