Boston is the center of a bustling US biotech hub, with massive venture capital investments in star emerging companies. Here are five private biotech companies in the Boston area that have pulled the biggest rounds of investment in the past two years.
The Boston area in the US state of Massachusetts (MA) is home to one of the leading biotech hubs in the world.
The hub’s fame in the biotech industry, which consists primarily of the cities of Boston and Cambridge, stems in part from its proximity to high-performing institutions, including Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Massachusetts General Hospital, from which major biotechnological innovations arise.
Boston and Cambridge are also home to leading US venture capital (VC) firms that invest in promising life sciences research. Examples include Third Rock Ventures, which raised a massive $1.1 billion fund in June 2022, and RA Capital Management, which raised an $880 million fund last year.
In addition, the Boston area has spawned many influential public biotech companies. One of the most successful in recent years was Moderna, a giant messenger RNA (mRNA) specialist incubated by VC firm Flagship Pioneering. Moderna is set to start producing one of the first COVID-19 vaccines in 2020 and currently has a market cap of over $60 billion.
The hub shows little sign of slowing down and there is a large number of private biotech companies stirring excitement among investors. Here are five of Boston’s innovative private biotech companies that have delivered massive VC rounds in the past two years.
The holding company ElevateBio was founded in 2017 in Waltham, a city near Boston. The gene and cell therapy developer has consistently landed major funding rounds, culminating in a stunning Series C round of $525 million in March 2021.
ElevateBio specializes in technology that supports the development of advanced therapies such as gene editing, induced pluripotent stem cells and protein, viral and cellular engineering. Portfolio companies under his wing include AlloVir, which develops T-cell therapies against viral infections, the gene-editing biotech Life Edit and the cell therapy player HighPass.
Central to ElevateBio’s business model is BaseCamp, a program that provides research and production services to other companies. ElevateBio has ongoing collaborations to develop and manufacture new treatments with partners including Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.
Laronde was unveiled in early 2021 by Flagship Pioneering in Cambridge, MA. By August 2021, Laronde had raised $440 million in a Series B round to fund the development of drugs based on technology called Endless RNA.
Current messenger RNA (mRNA) drugs, such as Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, work by instructing cells to produce therapeutic proteins. However, these drugs can only exert their effect for a short time before being removed from the body. Endless RNA is designed to overcome this limitation by creating closed loop RNA molecules that stay in the body longer. These modular molecules can also be easily modified to contain different instructions for making multiple proteins.
Laronde uses its Endless RNA technology to target diseases in a wide variety of therapeutic areas, including metabolic diseases, genetic disorders, blood disorders and cancer.
Many neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases are notoriously difficult to treat, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Over the decades, many clinical trials have struggled to provide a one-size-fits-all approach that works for many patients. Neumora Therapeutics explores another strategy: precision medicine.
Cancer used to be classified and treated based on symptoms and organs affected, but the efficacy of these treatments was lacking, Paul Berns, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Neumora, said in a public statement. Precision medicine made many cancer treatments more targeted and effective. “In the same way, we now have the tools and technologies to redefine brain diseases to transform the development of targeted, effective precision drugs,” he added.
Neumora Therapeutics closed a massive Series A round worth $400 million when it launched in October 2021, raising another $100 million investment from Amgen. The company will use the money to develop Data Biopsy Signatures: maps of different causes of brain diseases that will help it identify specific types of patients who would benefit from targeted therapy and specially designed clinical trials. These maps are derived from a range of data sources, including genomics, imaging, electrical brain activity, and clinical data.
Neumora’s lead treatment candidate is in Phase 2 trials for the treatment of depression. The company runs other programs for the treatment of anxiety and neurodegenerative diseases.
Tessera Therapeutics made headlines earlier this year with an impressive Series C funding of $300 million. The company was founded by Flagship Pioneering in Somerville, near Boston. The proceeds from the latest round will fund the development of Tessera’s Gene Writing technology, which is capable of performing a series of edits and insertions into the genome to deliver therapeutic genes.
While there’s a lot of hype about the therapeutic potential of CRISPR technology, Tessera’s Gene Writing technology is based on another concept called mobile genetic elements (MGEs): a huge group of genomic sequences, including plasmids and transposons located within a genome. or even jump to other organisms. The technology can use RNA templates to make small changes to the genetic code or DNA templates to insert entire sequences. According to the company, this has the potential to cure almost any genetic disease, even those inaccessible to current gene-editing technology.
One of the diseases this technology could address is cystic fibrosis, a condition caused by a series of genetic mutations in a gene called CFTR. At present, some treatments can alleviate the condition in patients with certain types of mutations, but some patients with other mutations have no options. Last year, Tessera joined forces with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to develop ways to treat the defective CFTR gene and potentially cure the disease in all patients.
Xtalpi was founded in 2014 by a team of quantum physicists from MIT with the aim of accelerating the process of drug discovery. It uses a range of digital and computational tools such as quantum physics, artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing to predict the chemical properties of small molecule drugs at an early stage of development.
With offices in Cambridge and Shenzhen, China, Xtalpi has a series of partnerships along the way with companies around the world, such as Singleron, PhoreMost and Signet. Just a year after bringing in $300 million in a Series C round in late 2020, Xtalpi closed a Series D round worth $400 million in late 2021.
Some of the services Xtalpi provides to customers include discovering chemical structures that can hit disease targets; finding the optimal profile for a drug candidate to improve its success rate; and validation of its computational predictions with wet lab experiments.