Serial Biotech Exec Christoph Westphal Banks $40 Million For Startup FlexPharma

Published: Sep 10, 2014

Serial Biotech Exec Christoph Westphal Banks $40 Million For Startup Flex Pharma

September 9, 2014

By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Boston-based Flex Pharma, Inc., recently announced it had raised $40 million in private funding from a wide range of public and private investors. The company’s R&D focuses on innovative treatments for neuromuscular disorders, with the primary focus currently being on treatments for muscle cramps.

Flex Pharma is run by Christoph Westphal, MD, PhD, best known for co-founding Sirtris Pharmaceuticals in 2004, where he served as CEO until 2010. He was also previously the President of SR One, a GlaxoSmithKline venture capital firm that invests in emerging life science companies. Notably, Westphal is Founder and General Partner of Longwood Fund, a venture capital firm that creates and invests in medical-related startup companies. Longwood is one of the investors in Flex Pharma, including Bessemer Venture Partners, City Hill Ventures, The Kraft Group, Judy Pagliuca, a Managing Partner in Pags Growth Capital, and Diane and John Scully, former Apple CEO and Sculley Family Office, among many others.

According to the Flex Pharma website, there are no proven or effective treatments for muscle cramps or spasms, whether they occur in the elderly or in athletes. Although sports drinks manufacturers would have you believe that muscle cramps are caused by dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, current research suggests they are caused by over-firing of the motor neurons in the spinal cord. Flex Pharma is focusing on products, including, apparently some food products, that relieve electrically induced muscle cramps. Flex Pharma plans to begin efficacy studies in the first half of 2015.

Christoph Westphal is Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO. Jennifer Cermak is Co-Founder and Vice President of Program Management. Additional co-founders include Rod MacKinnon and Bruce Dean.

In a press release, Rod MacKinnon, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Co-Chair of Flex Pharma’s Scientific Advisory Board, said, “Our early stage clinical studies have shown initial human efficacy related to muscle cramping in healthy volunteers. We are hopeful that we may be able to help individuals suffering from muscle cramps and other neuromuscular disorders.”

Steve Kraus, a Partner with Bessemer Venture Partners, one of the recent investors, said, “Flex Pharma’s unique approach to neuromuscular disorders offers an opportunity to develop new clinical agents to address an unmet need and rapidly create value. We look forward to working with Flex Pharma’s management team and our co-investors to build an exceptional new biopharmaceutical company.”

In August, Flex Pharma announced positive clinical results from an early study into its pipeline product. The studies were made up of two randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled studies that combined a total of 40 subjects. The primary endpoint was to determine the efficacy in preventing muscle cramps. Both studies showed positive results.

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