Forma Therapeutics, a drug discovery company co-founded by scientists from the Broad Institute, this week emerged from stealth mode by announcing that it has secured $25 million in equity-backed and non-dilutive funding.
The company will use the financing to help it become what it calls an integrated drug discoverer that will use data from the National Institutes of Health’s Cancer Genome Atlas Project to seek out “challenging” drug targets, President and CEO Steven Tregay said this week.
As part of that effort, Forma is also in the process of assembling a drug discovery toolbox by negotiating licenses for life sciences discovery tools from several undisclosed academic and corporate entities. However, the Broad Institute is not among those potential licensors, Tregay told BTW this week.
“It’s important to stress that we do not have any licenses or a direct relationship with the Broad Institute,” Tregay said, despite the fact that two of Forma’s founding scientists are Broad researchers: Stuart Schreiber, director of chemical biology at the institute, and Michael Foley, director of Broad’s chemical biology platform.
“The Broad Institute is a really innovative center of drug discovery,” said Tregay, also a co-founder and former managing director of Novartis Option Fund, which is the lead investor in the $25 million financing round. “A lot of [Broad’s] mandate is to put much of this info in the public domain, and we will certainly be looking to them as a source of innovation like everybody else, but we do not have a relationship with them.”
For instance, Tregay said, Forma will look to use data from the Cancer Genome Atlas Project, a joint initiative of the National Human Genome Research Institute and National Cancer Institute that was formed in 2005 to take a large-scale, systematic approach to identifying the changes that occur in the genomes of cancer cells. The Broad Institute is one of the top academic players in the project.
Much of this work involves linking cancer patient populations with specific promising cancer drug targets, Tregay said, particularly those that are traditionally difficult to characterize.
“There are a small number [of targets] that have been very approachable from small-molecule drug discovery but have been very competitive,” Tregay said. “We want to focus on those challenging targets that would help us differentiate our business from others.”
“A lot of [Broad’s] mandate is to put much of this info in the public domain, and we will certainly be looking to them as a source of innovation like everybody else, but we do not have a relationship with them.”
In a statement, Forma co-founder Foley added that “over the next five years, genomic medicine efforts such as [TCGA] will elucidate the genomes of many tumor types and fundamentally change our understanding of cancer drug targets. I believe that the new tools and capabilities coming out of chemical biology research will enable the discovery and development of innovative drugs against novel, high-value targets, and Forma is uniquely positioned to capture this opportunity.”
In order to achieve this goal, Forma has secured licenses for “all of the core technologies” that it needs from a mix of undisclosed academic institutions and companies, according to Tregay.
In addition, it is currently negotiating licenses for additional drug discovery technologies from additional universities and corporations.
These drug discovery technologies are in the general areas of protein crystallography; cell-based screening; computational biology; structural biology; and diversity-oriented synthesis.
As an example of how these technologies will be blended, the cell-based screening platform will allow Forma to screen discrete targets in cells and conduct quantitative genome- and proteome-wide profiling and target identification; while diversity-oriented synthesis, which combines stereochemical and structural diversity in natural products with traditional combinatorial chemistry techniques, has been proven to work for challenging targets, Forma said.
“In order to go after these challenging targets, you really need a versatile toolbox,” Tregay said.
Although he declined to disclose specific licensing partners, Tregay said that one of the technologies being integrated into Forma’s platform comes from SolMap Pharma, which Forma acquired for an undisclosed amount in November.
SolMap, which spun out of research conducted in the lab of Sandor Vajda at Boston University in 2005, provides Forma with a computational biology platform that examines protein surfaces and “hot spots,” Tregay said.
Besides Tregay, Schreiber, and Foley, Forma’s co-founders include Todd Golub, director of the cancer program at Dana Farber Cancer Institute; and Nikolai Kley, vice president of biology and head of drug discovery, and former vice president and head of research for GPC Biotech.
Tregay said that Forma also has no formal relationship with Golub’s employer, Dana Farber. It was not immediately clear whether any of the co-founders will retain their current academic positions.
BioOne Capital of Singapore also contributed to the $25 million financing round. Other investors and specific investment amounts or terms were not disclosed.
“What’s particularly unique about our approach is that a substantial portion of that funding is non-dilutive,” Tregay said. “It has been important to us to build a capital-efficient business, and we’re very proud we’ve been able to do that and secure non-dilutive financing.”
Forma is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., with research operations in Connecticut, Singapore, and Beijing. The company’s board of directors includes Tregay; Foley; Alexis Borisy, founder and CEO of CombinatoRx; Reinhard Ambros, head of Novartis Venture Funds; and Simon Campbell, former senior vice president, worldwide discovery and medicinal R&D Europe for Pfizer.