Boston is the center of a bustling biotech hub in the U.S., with huge venture capital investments flowing into rising star companies. Here are five private biotech firms in the Boston area that have drawn the biggest investment rounds in the last two years.
The Boston region in the U.S. state of Massachusetts (MA) hosts one of the leading biotech hubs in the world.
Composed mainly of the cities Boston and Cambridge, the hub’s prominence in the biotech industry stems in part from its proximity to high-achieving institutions including Harvard Medical School, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Massachusetts General Hospital, from which big biotech innovations originate.
Boston and Cambridge are also home to world-leading U.S. venture capital (VC) firms investing 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 bagged an $880 million fund last year.
Additionally, the Boston region has sprouted many influential public biotech companies. One of the most successful in recent years was Moderna, a giant messenger RNA (mRNA) specialist that was incubated by the VC firm Flagship Pioneering. Moderna would go on to produce one of the first COVID-19 vaccines in 2020 and currently has a market capitalization of more than $60 billion.
The hub shows few signs of slowing down, and there is a host of private biotech companies generating excitement among investors. Here are five of Boston’s innovative private biotechs that have raised huge VC rounds in the last two years.
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The holding company ElevateBio was founded in 2017 in Waltham, a city close to Boston. The gene and cell therapy developer has consistently bagged outsized funding rounds, topped by a jaw-dropping $525 million Series C round 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 its 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 manufacturing services to other companies. ElevateBio has ongoing partnerships to develop and manufacture novel treatments with partners including the institutions Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital.
Laronde was unveiled by Flagship Pioneering in Cambridge, MA, in early 2021. By August 2021, Laronde had bagged $440 million in a Series B round to bankroll the development of drugs based on technology called Endless RNA.
Current drugs based on messenger RNA (mRNA) like Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine work by instructing cells to produce therapeutic proteins. However, these drugs can only exert their effects for a short time before being cleared from the body. Endless RNA is designed to overcome this limitation by making RNA molecules into closed loops that last longer in the body. These modular molecules can also be tweaked easily to carry different instructions for making multiple proteins.
Laronde is harnessing its Endless RNA technology to tackle diseases in a wide range of therapeutic areas including metabolic diseases, genetic conditions, blood disorders, and cancer.
Many neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases are notoriously difficult to treat, such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Across the decades, many clinical trials have struggled to provide a one-size-fits-all approach that works for many patients. Neumora Therapeutics is exploring a different strategy: precision medicine.
Cancer used to be classified and treated according to symptoms and organs affected, but the efficacy of these treatments were lacking, said Paul Berns, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Neumora, in a public statement. Precision medicine made many cancer treatments more targeted and more effective. “Similarly, we now have the tools and technologies to redefine brain diseases to transform the development of targeted, effective precision medicines,” he added.
Neumora Therapeutics closed a huge Series A round worth $400 million when it launched in October 2021, and bagged another $100 million investment from Amgen. The firm is using the cash to develop Data Biopsy Signatures: maps of different drivers of brain diseases from which it can identify specific types of patients that would benefit from a targeted therapy and specially designed clinical trials. These maps are derived from a range of data sources including genomics, imaging, brain electrical activity and clinical records.
Neumora’s lead candidate treatment is in phase 2 testing for the treatment of depression. The company is running other programs for the treatment of anxiety and neurodegenerative diseases.
Tessera Therapeutics hit the headlines earlier this year with an impressive $300 million Series C financing. The firm was founded by Flagship Pioneering in Somerville, which is close to Boston. The proceeds of its latest round are bankrolling the development of Tessera’s Gene Writing technology, which is able to make a range of edits and insertions into the genome to deliver therapeutic genes.
While lots of hype is on the therapeutic potential of CRISPR technology, Tessera’s Gene Writing technology is based on a different concept called mobile genetic elements (MGEs): a vast group of genomic sequences including plasmids and transposons that are able to move within a genome or even jump to other organisms. The technology can use RNA templates to make small edits to genetic code or DNA templates to insert whole sequences. According to the company, this has the potential to cure nearly any genetic disease, even those that are inaccessible to current gene editing technology.
One of the diseases this technology could tackle is cystic fibrosis, a condition caused by a range of genetic mutations in a gene called CFTR. Right now, some treatments are able to alleviate the condition in patients with certain types of mutations, but some patients with other mutations are left without any options. Last year, Tessera joined forces with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to speed up the development of ways to rewrite the faulty CFTR gene and potentially cure the condition in all patients.
Xtalpi was set up by a team of quantum physicists at MIT in 2014 with the aim to speed up the drug discovery process. 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 range of partnerships on the go with companies around the world such as Singleron, PhoreMost and Signet. Just one year after bagging $300 million in a Series C round in late 2020, Xtalpi went on to close a Series D megaround worth $400 million in late 2021.
Some of the services Xtalpi offers to clients 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.