Life Sciences Roundup

Personalized medicine still lures venture capitalists

Xconomy.Com / July 26, 2010

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Personalized medicine is one of those big ideas talked about for a decade, and it still hasn’t made much of an appearance in the doctor’s office. But to Mohr Davidow Ventures, of Menlo Park, Calif., it still has all the promise of a field in its early days.

“Personalized medicine is happening,’’ says Bill Ericson, managing partner at Mohr Davidow. “The thesis is sound. It takes years to develop these products.’’

We’ve reported on a flurry of deals in personalized medicine this month. Pacific Biosciences, also of Menlo Park, raised a whopping $109 million for faster, cheaper gene sequencing machines intended to enable more precise diagnostics.

Tethys Bioscience, of Emeryville, Calif., secured $33 million in equity and debt for the commercial rollout of a test that predicts a patient’s risk of developing diabetes.

And On-Q-ity, of Waltham, is trying develop a test to predict which types of breast cancer are likely to relapse.

Much has been written since the heady days of the Human Genome Project at the turn of the last decade about how a deepening understanding of genetics would end reactive, one-size-fits-all treatments. It was supposed to bring about a more nuanced view of an individual’s state of disease and wellness, offering powerful new information that physicians could use to predict problems and possibly prevent them.

Ericson was inspired to follow this path when he was part of the founding team at a Kirkland, Wash., company called Rosetta Inpharmatics. It did pioneering work on cancer genetics and was ultimately sold for more than $600 million to Merck in 2001.

Ericson joined Mohr Davidow in 2000 and went to work on forming a thesis on how to invest in personalized medicine. He spent two to three years working out the idea, figuring out what parts of the technology were mature. He focused on improvements in measurements from samples, essentially getting a lot more information than ever before out of a drop of blood. But equally important was what that information could enable a physician to do that he or she couldn’t before.

Seven years into this strategy, Mohr Davidow counts one clear success story: ParAllele Biosciences’ 2005 sale to Affymetrix of Santa Clara, Calif. for more than $130 million. Some of its more recent companies, like PacBio, Tethys, On-Q-ity, Raindance Technologies, and Artemis Health, have not yet had their big payday. Ericson wasn’t about to go on the record making any predictions but said the field still looks promising enough for the firm to keep putting money into it.

“There’s always a lag between vision and reality,’’ he says. “We’re in the phase of moving toward the reality.’’

Mohr Davidow, which has $2 billion under management, has about half of the capital left to invest from its most recent fund of almost $700 million, Ericson says. While a lot of VCs are clearly shooting for lower-risk and more incremental short-term bets, Mohr Davidow’s latest investments don’t appear to be following that trend. The firm has decided to stick with the idea that if it can get in early with a groundbreaking field of technology like personalized medicine, it will be rewarded.

“It’s who we are, and it’s in our DNA,’’ Ericson says.


We saw a number of lesser-known New England biotechs surface with funding announcements:

Surface Logix of Brighton raised $4 million of a round of equity, options, and warrants that could total $4.6 million. The company, founded with technology from Harvard chemist George Whitesides in 2001, is working on treatments for obesity and diabetes.

DiagnosisONE, a Nashua, N.H., provider of software for clinical decision support, raised $5 million from Edison Venture Fund, to put toward sales, marketing, and development.

Mitralign, a developer of catheter-based systems for repairing mitral valves, grabbed a $5 million credit facility from GE Capital. The Tewksbury start-up will put the funding toward further developing its technology.

■A Shelton, Conn., developer of pain medicine, Cara Therapeutics, raised a $15 million Series D funding round, led by Rho Ventures. Existing Cara backers Alta Biopharma, Ascent Biomedical Ventures, CT Innovations, Devon Park BioVentures, Healthcare Private Equity, Mitsubishi International, and MVM Life Science Partners also participated in the financing, which brings Cara’s funding pot to more than $43 million.

Euthymics Bioscience nabbed the first tranche of its Series A funding round, which could total $24 million if the Cambridge drug maker hits certain milestones. It is developing a drug targeting depression that lacks the side effects, such as weight gain and sexual dysfunction, of existing treatments. It is using technology it acquired from Somerset, N.J.-based DOV Pharmaceutical in 2002. Novartis Venture Funds and Venture Investors led the latest investment for Euthymics, which also included Hambrecht & Quist Capital Management, GBS Venture Partners, and the State of Wisconsin Investment Board.


Taris Biomedical, a Lexington company spun off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that is making a drug-device combination treatment for bladder conditions, has hired Sarma Duddu as president and CEO. Duddu comes from Cima Labs, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania drug maker Cephalon.

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

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