PureTech pockets $50 million to bring life sciences ideas out of the lab

PureTech founder and CEO Daphne Zohar, center. (Photo by Scott Zuehlke, courtesy PureTech.)
PureTech founder and CEO Daphne Zohar, center. (Photo by Scott Zuehlke, courtesy PureTech.)

The big players of the biopharma world descend on San Francisco next week for the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, and in advance of it, Boston-based PureTech is announcing it has raised $50 million in new funding. PureTech takes successful research out of academic labs, and assembles teams that can move it toward commercialization. Among its projects are startup companies focused on obesity, hair growth, drug delivery without needles, and therapeutic video games.

Founded in 2001 by Daphne Zohar and MIT professor Robert Langer, PureTech also raised $57 million back in October 2014. As an entity, PureTech is a bit hard to describe: It’s not a venture capital firm, Zohar says, but rather a company that forms new companies around promising discoveries in labs around the world.

“We bring together experts — people who have thought deeply about a problem, and people who have never thought about the problem,” Zohar says. “In order to compensate people, we structure each project as separate companies, so they can get equity in that project. In most cases, we’re the majority owner of that company.” About 50 people work at PureTech’s Back Bay offices, she says.

Among PureTech’s interests, she says, are food and nutrition; metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes; immunology; and the brain. A PureTech-formed company called Tal Medical, for instance, is exploring the use of magnetic stimulation as a treatment for depression and other psychiatric disorders. Massachusetts General Hospital and several other hospitals are conducting a study to see if the approach can help patients who haven’t responded to an array of anti-depressant drugs. A company called Vedanta Biosciences is developing what Zohar calls “a cocktail of microbes” that, if shown to be effective, might benefit people who suffer from allergies or inflammatory bowel disease.

In recent years, I’ve covered other companies spawned by PureTech, including Entrega, a new approach to delivering “large molecule” drugs that typically must be injected, and Akili Interactive Labs, working on therapeutic games.

PureTech’s new funding comes from several CEOs of pharmaceutical and biotech companies, Zohar says, along with the investment management company Invesco and individual venture capitalists investing personal money.

PureTech hasn’t yet seen an acquisition or initial public offering of any of its companies. About that, Zohar says, “You want to build value. We’re not thinking about exiting the [projects] that we believe in and want to grow.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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