Emerging Drug Developer: Selecta Biosciences

Selecta Biosciences has brought together technology from three high-profile scientists to create a new drug development platform.

MIT's Robert Langer--a prolific scientist who has helped found a string of biotech companies-- and Omid Farokhzad from Brigham and Women's Hospital have been developing biodegradable nanoparticles, says Selecta Executive Chairman Robert Bratzler. And Professor Ulrich von Andrian of Harvard Medical School "brings immunology to the party, targeting the lymph nodes to drive a specific immune response."

That science convinced Polaris Venture Partners and Flagship Ventures, two early-stage venture capital groups which seeded the company, to come back for a $15.1 million Series B with new investors NanoDimension and Professor Timothy A. Springer. The new injection of funds was announced last week.

New research work at Harvard has helped illuminate the way that the lymph node and the immune system communicate at the cellular and molecular level, says Lloyd Johnston, vice president of pharmaceutical research and development. Nanoparticles can offer the perfect communication system, he adds, and fine tuning the immune response so it can prevent disease can lead to a whole new class of drugs.

Applying that platform technology to the immune system gives Selecta a wide range of disease targets, says Johnston, which includes infections, inflammation and cancer.

"We'll be in the clinic by the end of 2010 with our own internal program going forward," says Bratzler. "And we're in parallel discussions with prospective strategic partners. We see a broad range of applications, more than we can develop with our own resources."

"There's a broad range of diseases we believe we can treat," adds Johnston.

It's too big a field for any one company to tackle alone, especially a start-up with a small staff and big dreams. Some of those big, expensive targets, like cancer, will be left to other developers with deep pockets and a willingness to sign on to new development pacts, notes Johnston.

But don't look for any details beyond that quick glimpse of a business strategy. Bratzler and Johnston are keeping the specifics about a lead therapy to themselves for now. 

The plan now is to take their work into the clinic, start demonstrating that the technology can live up to some great expectations and grow the company from there. The head count at Selecta is in the low teens, says Bratzler, and growing. The developer has also occupied facilities in Watertown, MA. But they're taking a deliberate, step by step approach without advertising much in terms of detail--including new hiring plans.

Both Bratzler and Johnston are experienced biotech hands. Bratzler, who has a PhD in chemical engineering from MIT, ran Coley Pharmaceuticals for 10 years until its sale to Pfizer in early 2008. Pfizer paid $164 million for Coley's vaccine adjuvant assets. Johnston also has a PhD from MIT and had been vice president of operations for Alkermes.

"What you have to do in this day and age is create significant value with as little resources as possible," says Bratzler, who has little interest in evaluating the ultimate chances of an IPO or buyout at this stage of the game. "We're at the beginning of this whole trajectory or journey. At the end of the day, I think the scientists and founders really want to make a difference in patients' lives."

Emerging Drug Developer: Selecta Biosciences

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