Based: Cambridge, MA
CEO: Joseph A. Yanchik III
The Scoop: When Aileron announced its $40 million venture round earlier this month, the press zeroed in closely on the four big pharma venture arms that were crowding in to support the developer. The CEO says the company is on to a brand new way to develop therapeutics and there are clearly a lot of major players who want to have a front seat as researchers put a breakthrough theory to the test.
What Makes it Fierce: Four years ago, Aileron was little more than a dream.
Some seed capital from Apple Tree got the ball rolling, though the developer remained largely a virtual player until recently. Most of the work was farmed out to CROs around the globe.
Last fall, in a paper published in Nature, Aileron outlined how it found a way to push a novel self-destruct button in cancer cells. Aileron's breakthrough has been made in "stapling" peptides in such a way that they can survive passage in the body's bloodstream, without getting pulverized by enzymes. The company is essentially taking peptides and giving them small molecule-like properties.
That stapling technology allows the therapeutics to hit cell targets that traditional drugs can't reach. And Aileron has a breathtaking range of potential targets. Michael Diem, M.D., Partner at SR One, has called stapled peptides a potential "fourth estate" in drug development. That kind of therapeutic promise has helped it raise $40 million in a recent venture round that is propelling the company forward at a fast pace. And it's no accident that the pharma companies have crowded together to help fund the company.
"As groups did their due diligence, they were contacting me and increasing their desired investment amounts," says CEO Joseph Yanchik. "They all have the same mission right now; try and find new avenues of growth, a good armamentarium of small molecules and antibodies. They need a new path. They need new tools and new types of compounds if they want to create substantial growth."
Aileron's lead program should be headed into the clinic in 2010 and the developer has ambitious plans to follow up with new programs behind it. The company has the funds to begin work on five therapeutic areas in the next year.
"We will have collaborations within the next 12 months," says the CEO. "We've had offers to date but as a company we've been trying to find the right partners on the right types of things."
What to Look for: Aileron wants to head to the clinic to start putting its lead therapies to the test. Near term collaborations are likely. Aileron has far more targets than it can possibly hit on its own. And its beefing up its payroll as it broadens the amount of work it is taking on.
Venture backers: SR One Ltd.; Excel Medical Fund; Apple Tree Partners, Novartis Venture Fund, Lilly Ventures and Roche Venture Fund.