1/3/2017 2:55:33 PM
January 9, 2017
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Blade Therapeutics is a private biopharma company based in San Francisco that focuses on the treatment of fibrotic disease.
Rather than a specific disease, fibrosis is a pathologic process that involves progressive scarring and replaces functional tissue. That process drives the progression of several debilitating diseases, including diabetic nephropathy, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), systemic sclerosis and corneal fibrosis.
Wendye Robbins, president and chief executive officer of Blade Therapeutics, told BioSpace, “The company was founded around the work of Hal Dietz, a multi-boarded, very experienced researcher in connective tissue disorders, genetics, pediatrics and oncology at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Dietz was doing some very exciting work and Luke Evnin, our chairman, was watching it because he was the chairman of the Scleroderma Research Foundation. He decided he wanted to turn the research into a company.”
At that time, Robbins was teaching at Stanford Medical School, when she and Evnin began discussing the possibility of founding the company in late 2014. Originally, she agreed to come on board as an interim incubating chief executive officer.
“I worked with the founding team and Luke and we initially launched with a debt round of $500,000, then another $6 million of venture funding,” Robbins said.
Wendye Robbins—president and chief executive officer. Formerly teaching faculty at the Stanford University School of Medicine, and prior to that an Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology at University of California San Francisco, Robbins also co-founded NeurogesX (NGSX), which sold to Acorda Therapeutics (ACOR), and Labrys Biologics, which sold to Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA) in 2014.
Hal Dietz—founder and Scientific Advisory Board. He is the Victor A. McKusick Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine, and Molecular Biology & Genetics in the Institute of Genetic Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Brad Buckman—senior vice president, Drug Discovery and Medicinal Chemistry. Previously he worked at InterMune (ITMN), acquired by Roche (RHHBY) in 2014, and Berlex Biosciences, acquired by Bayer AG (BAYZF) in 2006.
Karl Kossen—senior vice president, Biology. Previously, Kossen was with Sirna Therapeutics, which was acquired by Merck & Co. (MRK) in 2006, and before that, InterMune, where he formed and led core functional teams for anti-fibrotic drug discovery and translational science.
John Nicholas—vice president, Data Science. Prior to joining Blade, Nicholas was at InterMune, and before that, Genentech (RHHBY).
Luke Evnin—managing director, chairman of the board. Evnin co-founded MPM Capital with Ansbert Gadicke in 1997, which was the venture capital firm behind several other companies, including BioMarin (BMRN), CoStim Pharmaceuticals [acquired by Novartis (NVS)], Epizyme (EPZM), and Pharmasset (VRUS) [acquired by Gilead (GILD)]. He has served as chairman of the Scleroderma Research Foundation since 2002.
Blade was founded in late 2015 with $6.5 million in Series A funding from MPM Capital. In June 2016, the company closed on a $45 million Series B financing led by Deerfield Management. New investors included Deerfield and Pfizer Venture Investments, with new equity investments made by Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY). MPM Capital and Osage University Partners also participated.
Robbins said, “At this point we have the lead program, which is lead series nomination. We are also developing a pipeline, not yet disclosed, but we do have a pipeline.”
She added, “We have an intracellular protease—I can’t disclose what it is—suffice it to say it’s a very novel protease that seems to show up for a large extent in fibrotic tissue. We’ve sorted autopsy specimens from pulmonary fibrosis lungs, NASH livers, diabetic kidneys, scleroderma skin, and we see a lot of our enzyme. When we look at control tissues in people who did not die of those diseases, you don’t see the enzyme.”
On the one hand, because of the uniqueness and broadness of its approach, Blade doesn’t have much competition. On the other hand, it’s essentially in competition with numerous other companies also working on therapeutics for those diseases. “We think that makes us better. Having more companies in this space, it puts more interest and energy into the space and it helps with regulatory precedent. We like it,” Robbins said.
What to Look For
Blade’s goal is to nominate a development candidate by the summer of 2017 and to get into the clinic by mid-2018.
“How optimistic and bullish are we? Quite. What could go wrong? It could turn out to be unimportant. It could be related to something else. We could end up making drugs that don’t work. There are a lot of things that could go wrong. So far it’s working, which is why the pharma guys jumped in. They looked at everybody’s stuff and jumped in here—they think it has the potential to really be a game changer in terms of the science,” Robbins said.
She added, “I left Stanford Medical entirely, which is not a trivial decision, to do this, because I’m very excited about the opportunity to really target grave diseases in a meaningful way.”
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