Russian fund leads $94.5M investment in two Langer biotechs

A pair of Boston-area biotechs focused on some cutting-edge bionanotechnology inspired by MIT's prolific Bob Langer is splitting a $94.5 million investment windfall spearheaded by RusNano, a multibillion-dollar government fund that's been making ambitious bets around the globe. BIND Biosciences and Selecta Biosciences, both chosen as previous Fierce 15 companies, will each get a whopping $47.25 million, and each plan to add new R&D operations in Russia to expand the number of programs in development.

"We were getting to a point where we were thinking about raising the next round," said BIND CEO Scott Minick in a telephone interview from Moscow. "We had different investors interested in coming in. Then RusNano approached us and we found very quickly that we had a similar vision on the impact of these nano-medicine drugs." Harvard's Omid Farokhzad, a close associate of Langer's, played a big role as a scientific founder for both Bind and Selecta.

Selecta CEO Werner Cautreels, who was with Minick in Moscow, noted that there were a number of connections between the U.S. and Russian operations that brought the group together, including ties between the Skolkovo business school and MIT. Selecta gets a $22 million Series D round from RusNano, additional new investors and existing investors.  In addition, Selecta grabbed $25.25 million for "strategic activities in Russia." BIND's deal was structured the same way.  

"This is a platform with very broad capabilities," added Minick. "We have more drug opportunities than resources to seize them. What this offers us is the ability to add some impressive scientific talents and we're now recruiting in Russia." BIND and Selecta each plan to recruit 15 to 20 employees to work on their programs in Russia. The money is also sufficient to fund Bind's lead drug--BIND-014--through clinical trial development as the biotech expands its pipeline.

RusNano has been making some huge investments since it set up operations. The agency has been a big investor in Celtic Pharma, a private equity group that specializes in the life sciences. RusNano has sunk $477 million into Celtic's funds, and will have a 40% stake in a U.K. startup called Pro Bono. Just a month ago RusNano also agreed to provide up to $26 million to fund a Cleveland BioLab spinoff, Panacela Labs, which is developing a preclinical portfolio of cancer drugs. The strategy will be to gain Russian approval first and then target the EU and U.S.

"Both companies (Bind and Selecta) are at the stage where lead drug candidates are in the beginning of clinical trials, and they have what we see as unbeatable advantages: a strong scientific base, an experienced ‘dream team' in product development and commercialization, and platforms that can be the engines for new drug products and vaccines," noted a RusNano spokesman in a statement to FierceBiotech.

Another key point in their favor: Both were willing to set up Russian facilities, fitting RusNano's strategy of building up the country's involvement in the field. And other companies involved in nanobio could find open arms in Russia as well.

"We are looking to expand our portfolio by investing in Russian and foreign companies," noted RusNano. "The projects should be nano-related, this is one of our basic criteria."

- get the release from Selecta
- read the release from BIND

Special Report: BIND Biosciences - 2008 Fierce 15 | Selecta Biosciences - 2011 Fierce 15