Drug Development

Polaris is piecing together a new, $400M-plus biotech fund as good times roll

Back in 2014, I asked MIT’s Bob Langer what distinguished Polaris Partners – a venture group that routinely backed the new companies molded out of the work done in his lab – in a busy field.

“Great judgment,” Langer shot back. “Also treating people great, with many people working with them a 2nd, 3rd, 4th time.”

Fairly soon, Polaris’ venture crew should have the money in hand to make it a fifth time. The venture group filed documents with the SEC earlier this week that pegs its next fund at $400 million — though it’s a mark of honor among biotech VCs to make that the base figure.

Langer is just one of many prominent scientists close to Polaris, which has been positioned to tap cutting edge lab work to help launch a long string of new biotechs. The gene editing outfit Editas — which successfully defied a turbulent market to go public early this year — is one of those portfolio companies. Syros, which had to fight harder to complete its IPO, is another.

Venture partner Amir Nashat told me at the launch of the last fund that the scientific scene in the thriving Cambridge/Boston hub has changed remarkably in recent years. These days, scientists are coming out of the lab with more than a concept. More and more often, they have a molecule in hand that can be used to shape a company that starts with a timeline for Phase I studies.

That trend appears to have only accelerated since then, as Harvard demonstrated recently when it directly sold a program to Merck for $20 million upfront. And Flagship, Third Rock and others have all been following much the same path as Polaris, helping the local biotech scene thrive with a steady for of startup cash.

The last 4 years has provided boom times for the venture groups like Polaris. A recent list of the most active venture groups in the U.S. lists them as number 7 among more than 100 VCs, with 40 deals and (very) roughly $125 million in investments.

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