A small Cambridge biotech said Wednesday it has raised $85 million in fresh venture capital and appointed a pharmaceutical industry veteran chief executive as the startup works on potential treatments for fibrosis, the often deadly scarring of organs caused by a variety diseases.
Mediar Therapeutics, which was founded in 2018 based on scientific insights of three researchers at Mass General Brigham, had previously raised $20 million in seed capital. It wants to use the new cash to next year begin clinical trials of monoclonal antibodies to halt and even reverse fibrosis.
Rahul Ballal, who until recently led a struggling Boston biotech called Imara that focused on blood disorders, was appointed chief executive last month. He succeeded Meredith Fisher, a partner at Mass General Brigham Ventures who had been interim chief executive.
Mediar is working on treatments for fibrosis, which occurs when the body repairs itself in response to a disease or injury but deposits connective tissue that does more harm than good. Instead of promoting healing, the tissue causes scarring that interferes with the function of the organ and can even lead to its failure.
Among the diseases that can cause fibrosis is viral hepatitis (which can lead to scarring of the liver), rheumatoid arthritis (scarring of the lungs), and chronic kidney disease (scarring of the kidneys). Fibrosis contributes to 45 percent of deaths in the industrialized world, said Paul Yaworsky, Mediar’s chief scientific officer.
Current drug treatments combat fibrosis early, when inflammation intended to promote healing goes awry, said Ballal. “The dogma has always been that you need to attack fibrosis at the initial stage, when inflammation is rampant, essentially before the train leaves the station,” he explained.
The problem with that tack, he said, is that it sometimes undercuts the beneficial effects of inflammation associated with recovery from an illness.
In a new approach, Mediar has identified biomarkers in blood linked to fibrosis and developed antibodies that target cells called myofibroblasts, which are believed to drive the progression of the dangerous scarring. “We’re trying to slow that train down and stop it in its tracks and, if we’re lucky, reverse the direction,” Ballal said.
The company based its approach on the insights of two researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Michael Choi and David Lagares, and a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Vishal Vaidya.
Ballal joined Mediar with nearly 20 years of experience in biotechnology. His previous firm, Imara, recently merged with Enliven Therapeutics, of Boulder, Colo., after Imara’s leading drug candidate yielded negative results in studies for treatment of two rare blood disorders, sickle cell disease and beta thalassemia.
Mediar has 20 employees and is based at LabCentral, the shared laboratory space in Cambridge. The firm hopes to double its staff within 18 months, Ballal said.
Mediar’s $85 million fund-raising round was led by Novartis Venture Fund and Sofinnova Partners, with participation from Pfizer Ventures, Mission BioCapital, Gimv, Pureos, Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly & Company, Ono Venture Investment, and Mass General Brigham Ventures.
Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.