Enlight's first portfolio company takes the stage
When PureTech Ventures set up Enlight Biosciences, it was able to capture the attention--along with $52 million in investment funds--of four of the world's biggest pharma companies.
The innovative collaboration intends to advance new drug development technology that can benefit all of the partners, a high-profile group which includes Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Merck, and Eli Lilly. Their primary aim is to find new technology that will make drug discovery work more efficient. And Enlight intends to launch a string of new companies that can commercialize the work.
That sets the stage for Endra, the first of Enlight's portfolio of start-ups to debut on the biotech field.
Enlight provided an unspecified injection of investment capital into the company, which has cobbled together intellectual property from a variety of academic sources to pursue a new approach to medical imaging.
"The fundamental technology is an extremely novel concept," says David Steinberg, the acting CEO and a partner at PureTech. "It's a combination of optical imaging and ultrasound. Combining those two things we can generate powerful images.
"You basically illuminate a target with light, like using a laser. Low levels of light create a small heating element, that creates a pressure wave and then you can image that pressure wave with standard ultrasound equipment. No special equipment is needed other than that.
"We licensed it from three or four different groups in an academic setting," he adds. Some of the new technology was worked on at Texas A&M, Stanford, Michigan and other universities. "One of the nice elements was our ability to assemble it from multiple institutions."
The company has been operating 'semi-virtually' in Steinberg's home base of Boston. And on February 1st its new headquarters opened in Ann Arbor, MI. The company has four employees now and plans to get to eight to 10 staffers by the end of this year.
"We're operating in a capital-efficient manner," assures Steinberg. "We don't spend a lot of money. We want to prove out the principles of the technology and then expand."
Some of the company's top talent comes from GE. "The COO is Michael Thornton, says Steinberg. "He started his own imaging company, which he sold to GE, and we brought him in to be COO of Endra." GE is not involved in the work at Endra.
Moving quickly, the company has been testing its prototype on animals early this year and is working to install it with Enlight partners. Endra plans to start presales work in the fall.
"The beauty of this technology is that it translates from preclinical to clinical to point of care diagnostics," says Steinberg. "That's why the partners are so excited. It allows studies in small animals, translates into humans without switching imaging modalities. And this technology is amenable to point-of-care use at the bedside."
If Enlight and its pharma backers get their way, more companies like Endra will follow in short order.
"This is a good model for Enlight-type companies," says Steinberg, "and the technology itself is quite exciting."