Accelerator Corp. has produced its first two companies.
The Seattle-based business, created last year as an investment vehicle to foster young biotech firms, sank seed funding into VieVax Corp. and VLST Corp. Both will operate out of Accelerator's lab and office facility over the next two years, time in which they will split $5.6 million from Accelerator's investors. Its financial backers include MPM Capital, ARCH Venture Partners, Versant Ventures and Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc.
At the same time, VieVax and VLST will have access to scientific and technical guidance from the Institute for Systems Biology, a Seattle-based research organization run by Leroy Hood, as well as management services from their incubator forebear.
"I've seen a ton of different deals, and these involved great innovators with great innovations," Accelerator President and CEO Carl Weissman told BioWorld Today. "[VieVax and VLST were] the cream of the crop of what we saw." He added that Hood "said in each case that these two were exactly the kind of deal we should do. And he was right."
VLST, co-founded by Craig Smith and Steve Wiley, will concentrate on target discovery and validation technology applicable primarily to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Smith and Wiley, who have roots at Amgen Inc., of Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Immunex Corp., before it was bought by Amgen, will be joined by Ray Goodwin, another alum of the two companies. Smith and Goodwin were co-inventors of Enbrel (etanercept).
"[Smith] has done this before and understands drug discovery and development very well," Weissman said. "He understands autoimmunity and that market very well, and he has presented us with an extremely streamlined method for getting to the best target in autoimmunity and inflammatory disease."
VieVax is building a platform technology for developing vaccines, primarily against infectious diseases, with future plans to explore vaccines against cancers. It was founded by Greg Mahairas, its chief technology officer.
"If VieVax is successful in validating its platform for rapidly developing vaccines for any number of different infectious diseases," Weissman said, "that could make a revolutionary difference in the vaccine world. Vaccine development has been notoriously slow, and there have been safety issues."
Mahairas founded Regulome Corp., of Seattle, and served as its vice president of operations. He also is the director of the University of Washington's High Throughput Sequencing Center and a senior scientist with PathoGenesis Corp., also of Seattle.
With their new companies, Smith, Wiley and Mahairas will work to hit initial development milestones.
"These are milestones that can be reached for a modest amount of money in a modest amount of time," Weissman said. "We work with the company to build a budget and timeline that hits those milestones. In the case of both of these companies, they are going to be working toward validating their platforms and advancing a number of compositions of matter toward animal models. Proof of efficacy is what we view as key right now within Accelerator."
The incubator company received $15 million in funding about a year ago. Weissman said Accelerator remains on pace to churn out six companies within its first three years. (See BioWorld Today, May 27, 2003.)
Its backers - Boston's MPM, ARCH in Chicago and Menlo Park, Calif.-based Versant - are common venture groups in the biotech industry. Alexandria Real Estate Equities in Pasadena, Calif., develops office space and laboratory combinations. The Institute for Systems Biology's Hood is a board member at Accelerator.