Flagship, Arch cut their losses, quietly shutter Ensemble Therapeutics as pipeline plans fizzle out

Here’s another cautionary tale to keep in mind during the go-go years of the US biotech scene.

After getting started with more than $40 million in reported equity investments from a broad group of A-list investors like Flagship and Arch, Ensemble Therapeutics went on to ink a long lineup of discovery deals with some prominent players like Novartis, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers.

But it wasn’t enough.

Doug Cole

Not long after then-CEO John Ripple outlined plans to develop their own pipeline, the Cambridge, MA-based company has quietly slipped under the waves. Flagship managing partner Doug Cole, who had sat on the Ensemble board, tells me that pipeline plan would have taken more money than the investors were willing to put up.

“The company was wound down earlier this year,” noted Cole in an email. “It had been operating at a reduced burn for quite some time.”

Ensemble was founded 13 years ago by Harvard Professor David Liu. Partnership cash was used to keep the biotech going for much of the past decade.

Ripple went on to run a startup called Exonics, which just raised $40 million to push a CRISPR/Cas9 program for Duchenne muscular dystrophy into the clinic. There is still a website online for Ensemble, which talks about its small molecule/antibody hybrid that sought drugs that could go where current therapies can’t make it.

The Boston Business Journal first reported that the company had been shut down.

Cole says the lesson here is that chemistry alone can get you just so far:

After several years of successfully applying the traditional biotech partnership business model where we leveraged our chemistry platform in support of pharma discovery projects, we attempted to shift to a drug business model of our own. The shift required significantly more capital than was available from the ongoing partnerships and therefore we decided to discontinue the project.

The company’s success pioneering DNA-encoded chemistry has been widely emulated and incorporated into modern discovery chemistry. As with many other examples in our industry, it remains challenging to capture significant value with chemistry, alone.

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