With Investments from Pfizer and AbbVie, Morphic Therapeutic Closes a $51.5 Million Series A Round

Published: Jul 01, 2016

With Investments from Pfizer and AbbVie, Morphic Therapeutic Closes a $51.5 Million Series A Round June 30, 2016
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Waltham, Massachusetts-based Morphic Therapeutic announced today that is has completed a Series A financing round worth $51.5 million. It was co-led by SR One and Pfizer Venture Investments, and joined by Omega Funds and AbbVie Ventures. Founding investors were Polaris Partners, TA Springer, Schrodinger Inc., and ShangPharma Investment Group.

The company is translating work from Timothy Springer’s laboratory. Springer is the Latham Family Professor at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. The focus is on developing new therapies for immunological, fibrotic, neoplastic and vascular diseases.

Springer discovered integrins in the 1980s, which led to six injectable integrin therapies approved for multiple sclerosis (MS), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, plaque psoriasis, acute coronary syndrome and complications during percutaneous coronary intervention.

“This is a tremendously exciting time in drug development, when scientific understanding has advanced significantly, creating a clear path forward for effective targeting of the integrin family using rationally designed small molecules,” said Praveen Tipirneni, president and chief executive officer of Morphic, in a statement.

Integrins showed a lot of promise, but ran into problems with dangerous side effects. New research out of Springer’s laboratory has the company convinced it has a way around them now.

Integrins are receptors found on the surface of approximately 90 percent of human cells. Although their role is not completely understood, they are believed to play a part in cell survival, differentiation and migration. An example of a successful integrin-directed antibody is Biogen ’s Tysabri (natalizumab) for MS.

Tipirneni told Forbes that the original flaw with integrins was a lack of understanding of the underlying biology. Springer’s lab has since used X-ray crystallography to study integrins’ molecular structure and found that they “morph” into different shapes, which Forbes says, is “a crucial insight. It means that if you make a specific antibody that inhibits an integrin in the closed state, and it does the job well, it can also have the opposite effect, by stimulating another activity. That can cause dreaded side effects, or even make a disease worse.”

Springer told Forbes, “We now have extensive structural knowledge of integrins, much of it from my lab, and my lab also knows how to avoid the harmful effects of inhibitors that relate to integrin morphing and has licensed this knowledge to Morphic Therapeutic. … With our structural knowledge of integrins, ability to solve structures of new drug-integrin complexes, ability to morph integrins into the desired conformational state, and Schrodinger’s expertise in computational design, we are in position to ride a new wave of integrin drug discovery all the way to FDA approval.”

Tipirneni indicates that there are around 24 known members of the integrin family, and about 15 seem to be good prospects for drug targets.

Praveen Tipirneni is the chief executive officer, a former senior vice president of Corporate Development and Global Strategy at Cubist Pharmaceuticals. Bruce Roger is the company’s chief scientific officer, formerly head of Neuro-Opportunities and Senior Director of Medicinal Chemistry at Pfizer and Pharmacia. Alex Lugovskoy is chief development officer, formerly vice president of Therapeutics at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals and associate director of Drug Discovery at Biogen. Blaise Lippa is vice president of Chemistry. Lippa is formerly the senior director of Medicinal Chemistry at Cubist . And Robert Farrel is the vice president of Finance and Operations, formerly vice president of Finance and Administration at Genocea Biosciences .

The company currently has about 15 employees.

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