UPDATED: Visterra hires veterans of AMAG and Concert, licenses dengue antibody from MIT

Visterra CEO Brian Pereira

As Visterra readies an influenza antibody for Phase I trials, the Gates-foundation-backed biotech announced today it's hired veterans of Mascoma and Concert Pharmaceuticals and licensed an antibody to treat the dengue virus out of the MIT lab of its cofounder, Dr. Ram Sasisekharan.

The hires and new IP came alongside an announcement that Visterra, a 2013 Fierce 15 company, has added $8.1 million to its Series A financing, closing it at $34.2 million. The additional funds came from existing backers, which include Polaris Venture Partners, Flagship Ventures, Lux Capital, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Omega Funds.

This latest injection of cash will take Visterra "through Phase I clinical trials for the lead influenza candidate (VIS410) and allow us to progress a dengue candidate through lead selection, a prelude to moving to clinical trials," Visterra chief executive Dr. Brian Pereira tells FierceBiotech. "The money also allows us to move other pipeline candidates to early-stage research."

The Phase I should be relatively short, Pereira added, with a start date in early 2014 and a mid-stage study to come fast on its heels. And to come up with the necessary funds to make it further along in the clinic, the CEO says that the biotech will explore all options, from raising more venture cash, to partnership funds and a possible IPO. 

Visterra's team is working on a "universal" approach to tackling the flu. Building on the work of Sasisekharan, a professor of biological engineering, investigators are concentrating on a highly networked cluster of amino acids on the hemagglutinin protein that acts as a kind of grappling hook the influenza virus uses to invade cells. With a newly engineered antibody, Visterra believes it can hit that target and thwart a range of flu types. And it could be used for both prevention as well as treatment--one of the holy grails in the global research community.

Visterra cofounder Ram Sasisekharan

Visterra's new CFO and chief operating officer is David Arkowitz, an AMAG Pharmaceuticals ($AMAG) veteran who also worked at biofuels company Mascoma. Visterra announced Greg Miller, former VP of business development at Concert Pharmaceuticals, is its new vice president of business development and strategic planning.

In its press release today, Visterra said dengue, for which there is no preventive or therapeutic treatment, has spread into parts of the U.S. and EU. The company cited a study that estimates 390 million are infected each year.

- here's the press release announcing the financing and hires
- read the press release announcing the dengue IP license

Special Report: 2013 Fierce 15 - Visterra