Christoph Westphal launches another biotech, with the help of some wealthy friends

Christoph Westphal

Proving once again that Christoph Westphal has some of the best connections in the biotech industry, the controversial entrepreneur has pieced together a $40 million financing round for his new startup Flex Pharma. And he did it by tapping a long lineup of investors, including some high profile individuals in the Boston area.

Westphal assembled his brain trust for Boston-based Flex earlier in the year, which is pursuing new treatments for muscle cramps with the help of Harvard's Bruce Bean. Nobel Laureate Rod MacKinnon, a scientific co-founder, has helped supervise a study in healthy volunteers for its lead drug, which is aimed at stopping severe cramping caused by hyperactive nerves. Efficacy studies are now slated to get underway next year, with the financial support of former Apple CEO John Sculley, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore and a big cast of supporters.

Westphal's own Longwood Fund joined in with Bessemer Venture Partners, EcoR1 and Alexandria Equities, which developers facilities for biopharma companies, on the round. And the VIP list also included Bain Capital Managing Director (and Celtics co-owner) Stephen Pagliuca and Harvard professor Robert Kaplan.

Westphal had been CEO of Verastem ($VSTM) up until about a year ago, when he handed the reins over to president Robert Forrester. He is perhaps best known for launching Sirtris, which GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) bought out for a whopping $720 million. The pharma giant then shut down the unit in 2013 after making little headway in the clinic, after generating a raucous controversy over the science involved. GSK then absorbed the R&D work into a larger research unit in Pennsylvania.

Westphal went on to run GSK's SR One venture group for a short stint and started up the Longwood Fund.

"Our early stage clinical studies have shown initial human efficacy related to muscle cramping in healthy volunteers," commented MacKinnon in a statement. "We are hopeful that we may be able to help individuals suffering from muscle cramps and other neuromuscular disorders."

- here's the release