Based: Welwyn Garden City, UK
CEO: Dr. Malcolm Weir (photo)
The Scoop: Heptares has a new development platform that can tackle some of the toughest diseases on the planet. The biotech raised $30.6 million in its first round, an impressive feat for any company but particularly notable for a UK start-up that is gearing up in the face of an icy economic wind.
What makes it Fierce: Heptares is squarely focused on G-protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, one of the biggest drug targets in the drug development world. A group of scientists at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology--including Richard Henderson and Chris Tate--helped design a new drug development platform for GPCRs and spun it off as a start-up.
The company is moving fast, hiring up at a rapid pace and moving into 8,000 square feet of space at Welwyn Garden City.
"We're 20 people full time in the company," says CEO Malcolm Weir. "We will double in size in the next 12 months, and that includes the buildout of chemical and biology in-house. We also do outsourcing" in areas like synthetic chemistry.
"We've raised money from investors primarily to consolidate the platform and to play it to targets we think the industry will be very interested in," says Weir. And that means primarily using the platform to look at small molecules with a potential for developing antibodies as well.
Roughly a quarter of existing therapies are aimed at GPCRs. But they can be extraordinarily difficult to study, disintegrating when removed from the membrane.
"We can engineer GPCRs to be stable," says Weir. They're dubbed STaRs, STabilized Receptors. And that gives researchers a chance to develop molecules that can go after some of the most difficult targets in medicine. Parkinson's is the developer's first target, with more to follow.
Weir is acutely aware that he's at least three years away from the clinic. But given the kind of technology the developer has and the array of targets they can go after, he believes that Heptares is in a good position to partner up with deep-pocket biopharma companies at the preclinical stage. And that can provide additional money for the developer to use on its own programs.
What to look for: Heptares is a company in search of development partners, with an initial focus on a new pact for Parkinson's in early 2010.
Venture backers: Clarus Ventures, MVM Life Science Partners and the Novartis Option Fund.