Agios Pharmaceuticals - 2009 Fierce 15

FierceBiotech 2009 Fierce 15 winner

Based: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 2008
Website: www.agios.com
CEO: David Scheinkein (photo)

The Scoop: Everyone in biotech goes for bragging rights when it comes time to recruit a CEO. And Agios' founders did themselves proud this past May when David Schenkein--the senior vice president in charge of cancer drug development at Genentech--signed on. Add a trio of venture groups, a hot science that is opening a brand new area of cancer drug development and an ambitious plan to partner up early, and you have the essential ingredients that went into Agios.

What Makes it Fierce: Agios hit the ground running, beginning with a $33 million Series A on July 4 last year, occupying a 21,000-square-foot lab in Cambridge and snaring top scientific talent to advise the developer on its cancer work.

The developer has a classic venture capital pedigree. Third Rock, Flagship and Arch all came together to provide the hefty Series A to get the company up and running, tackling a brand new approach to cancer. Kevin Starr from Third Rock initially helmed the company as it was going through its birthing pains.

The company intends to target the metabolic enzymes that drive the growth of cancer cells. And it has a distinguished group of minds in its brain trust. Harvard Med's Lewis Cantley joined Tak Mak from the University of Toronto and Craig Thompson of the University of Pennsylvania to found the company, contributing insights on the metabolism of cancer cells. James Bradner of Dana-Farber and Chi Van Dang of Johns Hopkins University were among new advisers to sign on last fall.

"If you look back 10 or 15 years, the big successes have come from these new areas of biology that are not too early, not too late that can change the way people think of therapies," says Starr. And he believes that Agios can be a game-changer in cancer.

"Right now we have close to 50 people in the company," says Starr. "Twenty-some on the chemistry side. We plan to have the lead program in the clinic in the next 12 months, with three behind that in late-stage chemistry. Our platform has identified at least five on-deck candidates." And there are likely some 30 to 50 potential targets to go after.

What to Look For:  With a lead drug expected in the clinic during 2010, Starr is already hot on the trail of early-stage partnership deals. "We're out talking to a number of companies right now," says Starr. "At most oncology companies, cancer metabolism has risen to the top one or two areas for them to explore." Starr says that partnership deals and non-dilutive grants can drive the company's growth.

Venture Backers: Third Rock Ventures, Flagship Ventures and Arch Venture Partners.

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Agios Pharmaceuticals - 2009 Fierce 15