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Life Sciences Roundup

Venture firm backs start-ups targeting cystic fibrosis

Xconomy.Com / January 31, 2011

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John Flatley, a real estate developer and philanthropist, has founded an investment group called Flatley Venture Capital to back life sciences start-ups with potential treatments for the genetic disease cystic fibrosis. Flatley, who has a close relative with the disease, said he launched the venture group within the last few months.

Flatley Venture Capital, unlike a traditional venture capital firm, isn’t primarily focused on making profits on its investments, Flatley says. The venture outfit aims to provide between $200,000 and $2 million to support biotech start-ups that might not otherwise be able to afford to develop their technologies for the cystic fibrosis market, which consists of 30,000 patients in the United States and about 70,000 worldwide — numbers that pale in comparison to the cancer and heart disease markets. Flatley only expects to break even with his investments from the fund.

Flatley has hired Harvard University graduate Alex Pickett as a senior analyst to evaluate deals for the venture group. While the group hasn’t made any investments yet, Flatley says, “it’s going to be a substantial fund.’’ He says he is already considering backing two companies, which he declined to name.

This isn’t Flatley’s first foray to help advance cystic fibrosis treatments. He previously led the creation of a nonprofit laboratory, now called the Flatley Discovery Lab, in Charlestown. The nonprofit effort, quietly launched in 2008, has the mission of finding new drugs for cystic fibrosis, which causes the body to produce thick mucus that leads to chronic lung infections and poor absorption of nutrients. (The median life expectancy of someone with the disease was about 37 years in 2008.)

When word got out last year that Flatley had started the research lab, scientists and entrepreneurs started to approach him with their ideas for CF treatments. But the nonprofit wasn’t an appropriate vehicle for funding those ideas — hence the new venture group.

“It’s something that has evolved out of necessity more than anything,’’ says Flatley, whose real estate firm is based in Braintree. “People are coming to me with ideas and they need funding. In order to get these things launched, somebody needs to take that first risky step. I decided to take on that role in the CF community.’’

Flatley is also continuing to provide financial support to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Bethesda, Md.-based nonprofit that has a track record of stepping up and funding drug developers in need of cash for new CF therapies. The foundation has given funding for drugs under development at Cambridge-based companies Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Alnara Pharmaceuticals. Flatley says his lab also provides workspace for an employee of the CF Foundation.

Ryan McBride

A new cancer treatment research and development operation is starting up in Cambridge based on the work of Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT founding members Stuart Schreiber and Todd Golub. H3 Biomedicine said it has launched to develop treatments tailored to patients’ cancers, as part of a partnership with the US unit of the Japanese pharmaceutical firm Eisai.

H3 will get up to $200 million in research funding from Eisai, access to its drug development resources, and support for the clinical development of its drug programs, according to the announcement. H3 says it will focus on the genetics of patients’ cancers.

Schreiber’s work has already resulted in three approved drugs that target cancer proteins he discovered. Golub, a leader in the genomic approach to cancer drug discovery, serves as an investigator at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Both researchers are among the founders of Cambridge-based Forma Therapeutics, which launched in 2007 to develop drugs based on new knowledge about the genetics of cancer. In November, Forma nabbed a $20 million deal with Eisai, one of a number of deals Forma has inked with pharma companies since its launch.

Erin Kutz

Stromedix, a Cambridge-based developer of treatments for a cause of organ failure known as fibrosis, has raised $2 million of a proposed $15.5 million round of debt financing, according to an SEC filing. The company, founded in 2007, has previously raised $29.4 million from investors.

This report was compiled by the editors of Xconomy, an online news website focused on the business of technology and innovation. For more New England coverage, visit www.Xconomy.com/boston.