Flagship Pioneering, the Cambridge life science investment firm that helped found Moderna over a decade ago, has unveiled a new company backed with $75 million to develop drugs for common conditions such as autoimmune disorders, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
The startup, Vesalius Therapeutics, was founded at Flagship in 2019 on the premise that many common diseases remain underserved by drug companies. Biotech companies in particular often focus on developing therapies for rare genetic diseases, where a well-understood root cause of a condition provides a clear path for drug development.
“It has left a lot of people suffering and dying with diseases that we care very much about, and we think it is time to turn back to those common diseases,” said Dr. Christopher Austin, the firm’s chief executive.
If Cambridge-based Vesalius can create treatments for diseases that other drug companies have left behind, there will be plenty of money to be made. “It has created an enormous value opportunity,” Austin said.
Flagship recruited Austin to lead Vesalius last year. He was formerly a director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Prior to that, he worked at other divisions of the NIH focused on genetics and rare disease.
Austin said that Vesalius will look at common diseases not as a single condition but as a collection of illnesses with unique underlying causes. Identifying causes of those subsets of disease may help the firm break new ground on conditions that drug companies have had little success in developing treatments for, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
The firm has been working on using machine learning to comb through information from clinical databases, genetic sequencing, and internal experiments to uncover new clues for treating common diseases. The company is not revealing details about how that strategy works.
“We believe our approach will have a transformative effect on our ability to treat the diseases that cause ninety percent of suffering and death in the world,” Dr. Doug Cole, Flagship managing partner and cofounder of Vesalius, said in a statement.
Vesalius isn’t disclosing timelines for when it expects to get its first program into the clinic, but the startup is planning on rapid growth, with more than 200 new hires in the next two years.