Navitor grabs a $33M round as it carefully navigates toward the clinic

George Vlasuk

George Vlasuk and his biotech crew at Navitor have lined up a $33 million round designed to get the first snapshot on clinical efficacy for its platform play.

Brace Pharma Capital, an investment company formed by the big Brazilian pharma company EMS, stepped up to lead the round, along with contributions from a group of high-net-worth biotech investors, Remeditex Ventures, Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures and an undisclosed individual investor. Founding investors Polaris Partners, Atlas Venture, Johnson & Johnson Innovation-JJDC and SR One also participated in the financing.

"We're now advancing toward the clinic in several disease areas," says Vlasuk, who's keeping some of the specifics on its targets quiet for now as the tech ripens.

The plan is to continue to do the groundwork needed to set up the first clinical program, following a timeline that should allow for the first human testing in late 2017 or early 2018. 

In addition to his hardcore fan base of early-stage VCs, Vlasuk--who ran Sirtris before GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) absorbed its work--is adding an unconventional set of investors.

In order to understand his company's potential, he adds, investors had to be willing to take the "long view," which isn't always easy for some. "Big Pharma is not doing this kind of work," says the CEO. "It's either us or academics, and we're right in the sweet spot."

Navitor--a 2014 Fierce 15 company--was inspired by the work of MIT Professor David Sabatini, who has spent years exploring the role of the mTOR kinase pathway in the development of various diseases. The protein kinase regulates the way cells respond to nutrients, and changes in the way it functions can trigger a wide variety of diseases. 

A company like Navitor needs a couple of rounds of financing just to get through several years of careful, detailed preclinical work and into a Phase Ib study that can review safety and early efficacy in humans, says Vlasuk.

"Because this is such a complex pathway, with so many diseases involved in this regulation of the pathway, we've been trying to understand how our compounds are impacting the pathway," says the CEO. And that's involved work on Huntington's disease as well as rare and large chronic diseases.

- here's the release

Special Report: FierceBiotech's 2014 Fierce 15 - Navitor Pharmaceuticals