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July 11, 2008
Sharing the Enlightenment
Here's an interesting idea: Merck, Lilly, and Pfizer are bankrolling a startup company to look for new technologies for drug development. Enlight Biosciences will focus on the biggest bottlenecks and risk points in the process, including new imaging techniques for preclinical and clinical evaluation of drug candidates, predictive toxicology and pharmacokinetics, clinical biomarkers, new models of disease, delivery methods for protein- and nucleic acid-based therapies, and so on.
It's safe to say that if any real advances are made in any of these, the venture will have to be classed as a success. These are hard problems, and it's not like there's been no financial incentive to solve any of them. (On the contrary - billions of dollars are out there waiting for anyone who can truly do a better job at these things). I wish these people a lot of luck, and I'm glad to see them doing what they're doing, but I do wish that there were more details available on how they plan to go about things. The opening press release leaves a lot of things unspoken, no doubt by design. (For instance, where are the labs going to be? What's the hoped-for balance of industry types to academics? How many people do they plan to have working on these things, and how will the companies involved plan to share the resulting technologies?)
Enlight is a creation of Puretech Ventures, a Boston VC firm that's been targeting early-stage ideas in these areas. Getting buy-in from the three companies above will definitely help, but their commitment isn't too clear at present. For now, it looks like they're getting to take a fresh look at some areas of great interest, without necessarily having to spend a lot of their own money. The press release says that Enlight will "direct up to $39 million" toward the areas listed on their web site, but those problems will eat thirty-nine million dollars without even reaching for the salt. Further funding is no doubt in the works, with the Merck/Pfizer/Lilly names as a guarantee of seriousness, and if any of these projects pan out, the money will arrive with alacrity.
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