The biotech ecosystem in New York City, once practically nonexistent, is starting to come to life. Biotech investment and management firm Accelerator has launched Petra Pharma in the city with $48 million in financing. The new firm will develop small molecules against undisclosed enzyme targets for the treatment of cancer and metabolic diseases.
Petra is rooted in research from two well-known academic entrepreneurs: Weill Cornell Medical College biochemist Lewis Cantley, who previously founded cancer metabolism firm Agios, and Harvard chemist Nathanael Gray, who is also a founder of Syros Pharmaceuticals. The new biotech firm has a multiyear research pact with Cantley’s lab at Weill Cornell and is backed by a syndicate of investors that includes Eli Lilly & Co., Pfizer Venture Investments, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and WuXi PharmaTech.
Petra is the first New York City-based firm launched by Accelerator, a biotech investment company that manages early operations for firms in its portfolio. All of Accelerator’s companies so far have been based in Seattle.
In mid-2014, Accelerator opened offices and lab space at the Alexandria Center for Life Sciences, two glass-fronted buildings on Manhattan’s East Side that are a short walk from some of New York’s top medical research institutes.
Although several big pharma firms have in recent years established labs in the Alexandria Center, New York City has struggled to attract a critical mass of young biotech firms. Accelerator Chief Executive Officer Thong Le thinks the time is now right.
“You have, for the first time, a select group of investors looking hard at research and making an effort to establish companies in the heart of New York City,” he says. “You also have a change in culture in the city, with more focus on commercializing technology and not just licensing it to big pharma.”
Indeed, momentum is building. Last month, Kallyope, a biotech that raised $44 million to develop drugs that exploit the relationship between the gut and the brain, said it would take up labs at the Alexandria Center. And earlier this week, Tara Biosystems, which is developing stem-cell-derived heart tissue for use in drug discovery, raised $2.25 million in seed funding to establish operations in New York City.