Big Shot Biotechs Like Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AbbVie Bet $48 Million on Startup Petra Pharma

Published: Jan 07, 2016

Big Shot Biotechs Like Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and AbbVie Bet $48 Million on Startup Petra Pharma
January 6, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

New York-based Accelerator Corporation announced a $48 million Series A investment round in Petra Pharma Corporation today. Participating in the round include investors AbbVie , Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Eli Lilly and Company , Harris & Harris Group, Inc., Innovate NY Fund, Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JJDC, Inc., The Partnership Fund for New York City, Pfizer Venture Investments, Watson Fund, and WuXi PharmaTech .

Petra will focus on the work of its two co-founders, Lewis Cantley, director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, and Nathanael Gray, professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Center.

Petra Pharma’s approach interrogates the novel enzyme targets responsible for a variety of important cellular processes, including cell division, growth, trafficking and signaling to develop therapies to improve patient health,” said Cantley in a statement. “The support of Accelerator at the seed stage, coupled with an expanded syndicate financing offered by Accelerator New York’s investors, puts Petra Pharma in a strong position to advance this promising research avenue, translate critical discoveries into next-generation treatments and ultimately make a difference in the clinic.”

Accelerator was founded in 2003 by Leroy Hood of the Institute for Systems Biology, a group of biotech venture capitalists, and Alexandria Real Estate Equities decided to support startup biotech companies that were not quite ready for traditional venture capital approaches. It has so far funded 12 companies, and in recent years have been speculating on branching into the New York City area.

In July 2014, Accelerator raised $51 million and partnered with seven New York City groups, including Weill Cornell, and set up an office at the Alexandria Center for Life Science. This current deal with Petra is the largest Series A round for Accelerator.

Petra will headquarter at the Alexandria Center for Life Science, which is on Manhattan’s East Side.

Not much is known about what Petra plans to focus on. Cantley’s work revolved around PI3 kinase, an enzyme that is the target for several cancer drugs. Gray’s work has focused on kinase inhibitors, which are signaling molecules involved in a number of cellular regulatory processes. Apparently Petra will try to identify new enzyme targets and develop drugs to treat various cancers and metabolic disorders, although the company hasn’t yet indicated any targets or diseases or any kind of timeline to clinical trials. Cantley did, however, tell Xconomy, that by working with Gray, he has discovered potential “new targets for cancer therapies that no one had really pursued before.”

Petra is apparently something new for Accelerator, which has had mixed results with its previous investments. Thong Le, Accelerator’s chief executive officer, admitted to Xconomy that it had made plenty of mistakes in the past, but plans to have more discipline and focus going forward. “We have a much tighter business plan around each of these opportunities going into them,” he said. “If we’re gonna fail, we’re gonna fail fast. If we’re gonna succeed, we’re gonna succeed through a series of steps that we’ve laid out. That’s why these deals are taking a little bit longer to announce.”

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