It’s hard not to enjoy talking with Greg Verdine about the new biotech companies he sets up. Years of teaching at Harvard have honed his skill for translating science into a pithy set of stories that everyone can understand and get a kick out of.
“What I am really passionate about is discovering new types of molecules that do things that can’t be done by standard small molecules and antibodies,” he told me in the lead-up to today’s formal launch of LifeMine Therapeutics with a $55 million A round. “I want to go after undruggable targets, get drugs that people consider now aren’t doable. The question is where you go looking for this.”
The answer for Verdine, this time, is fungi.
“Fungi have been duking it out with their neighbors in the soil for a billion years,” says Verdine, “stealing the lunch of their coworkers, competing, and fending off invaders using small molecules as competitive substances.” And it all fits very closely with human proteins, giving it a good shot at working in humans.
It helps that evolution doesn’t obey the same rules that guide medicinal chemists, and now Verdine’s new company will rely on sequencing to follow this strange path in search of some radical new breakthroughs in cancer — a field that has attracted billions of dollars to back a new generation of therapies.
To do this, he says, the team has to “grow up fungi individually, isolate DNA and sequence the DNA. Take the DNA and analyze it for biosynthetic gene clusters; an instruction set to make a natural product.”
Verdine blends multiple roles in biotech: Professor, venture partner at WuXi Healthcare Ventures — which seeded this new startup — and now a double CEO, with his dual role running Fog Pharma made easier by having both companies housed in the same building in Cambridge, MA.
Over the years Verdine has been one of the most prolific startup artists in the business, a go-to figure in the industry who’s helped kick a slate of biotechs into existence, ranging from Enanta to Tokai, Aileron and Warp Drive Bio, which he also helmed for a time.
Right now the team at LifeMine is made up of a dozen scientists and five DNA specialists, where they are focusing on programs and targets for the pipeline as they build the platform along the way. By mid-2019, Verdine expects the crew to expand to about 40 staffers.
It’s still early days, though.
“We’ve left ourselves 3.5 years to enter the clinic,” says Verdine.
That requires some very patient money, which Verdine lined up from WuXi Healthcare Ventures with a syndicate that includes Foresite Capital, Google Ventures (or GV, with Krishna Yeshwant joining the board), Arch Venture Partners, Boyu Capital, Blue Pool Capital, MRL Ventures Fund, and Alexandria Venture Investments.
Those blue chip VC names are mixing with some money out of two prominent Chinese investors, aside from the transpacific WuXi operation: Boyu — an influential private equity group led by co-founder and partner Sean Tong — and Blue Pool.
At this stage of his life, Verdine is positioned at exactly the right place, and exactly the right time, for a pricey space shot into the biotech universe. The stars have aligned — again.
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