Emerging Drug Developer: Forma Therapeutics

Forma takes aim at the genomics revolution

The Cancer Genome Atlas Project outlined an opportunity to develop a new generation of therapies. Forma Therapeutics has set out to grab it.

"This is going to fundamentally change how we think about cancer, the targets you go after and cancer types," says Forma CEO Steven Tregay. "If we can execute on that piece of the Cancer Genome Project, we'll be one of the few to drug these types of targets, one of the few to capitalize on it."

To accomplish that ambitious task, he adds, Forma Therapeutics has been working on a "continuum of technologies."

It will also require a continuum of cash.

After flying in stealth mode since the spring of 2008, Forma went public last week with the news that it had raised $25 million. Part of that money came from the Novartis Option Fund and Singapore's Bio*One Capital. Step two in that start-up process will involve inkind collaborations with developers at a time most fledgling developers only dream of future pacts.

"In the next weeks and months, we'll be rolling out collaborations," says Tregay, who left his job at the Novartis Option Fund to become founding CEO. "Right now, they're not disclosed."

Over the course of the year, he adds, Forma's researchers will form a better idea of which of its preclinical programs will be advanced into the clinic. For now, though, there are no firm clinical timelines in place, says the CEO.

While Forma will keep its in-house experts focused on cancer, there are developers in other fields--such as the antibacterials arena--which might want to partner with the company. Later in the year, says Tregay, Forma is likely to put together a Series B for $15 million to $20 million, depending on the success of its partnering efforts.

The ease with which Forma is grabbing attention--and financial backers--has a lot to do with its intellectual pedigree. Three prominent genomics experts at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard--Todd Golub, Stuart Schreiber and Michael Foley--helped found the company and will work closely on its development.

Schreiber is director of chemical biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator; Golub is the director of the cancer program and an investigator at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and Foley is the director of the Broad's chemical biology platform.

By taking advantage of the new tools and technology being generated in chemistry biology research, Forma says it will be in a position to develop new compounds that can be used to target the specific genomes that are found to play a role in disease. As new mechanisms of action are found, Forma intends to craft clinical programs around them.

Part of the company's technology involves a cell-based screening platform which allows the screening of discrete targets in cells and quantitative genome/proteome-wide profiling and target identification.

Forma's staff of 44 is not thinking small.

Says Tregay: "We want to avoid being in a position of betting the company on one or two products. We're looking to have a robust pipeline through all the phases, numerous programs, with several through lead optimization at any one time. I think we would like to position Forma as a leading global drug discovery engine, targeted on breakthrough oncology drugs that are first and best in class."

It's a good time to be an early-stage developer, says Tregay. In the near term, the public markets won't be offering investors an exit. That may change eventually, he adds, but for now, no one involved is looking for a quick exit.

In the meantime, he says, the key attributes biotech investors are looking for today are innovation and capital efficiency.

"Capital efficiency has really come back," says Tregay. "In the past, it was a badge of honor for the amount of money raised." Now, he says, kudos go to the companies that are able to demonstrate the most efficient use of money. 

Emerging Drug Developer: Forma Therapeutics

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