MIT’s Robert Langer has another startup
Gecko Biomedical raises $11m for work on a new surgical adhesive technology
The latest company cofounded by the prolific MIT scientist and entrepreneur Robert Langer has raised $11 million to advance work on a new kind of surgical adhesive technology.
The startup called Gecko Biomedical grew out of the Langer Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is now based in France. It aims to bring biodegradable glues and patches to market in the next few years for surgeons to close up wounds after operations.
For decades, Langer has been helping turn these kinds of medical breakthroughs into new companies — 26 so far, that are, among other things, helping to fight cancer, treat spinal cord injuries, and combat heart disease. One of those startups, Bind Therapeutics Inc. of Cambridge, went public in September and raised $70.5 million with its initial public offering.
“These things come out because I’ve got very bright, creative people in the lab,” said Langer. “My goal is that I want to see the stuff we do in the lab get out and help people.”
While Langer may be modest about his achievements, his lengthy resume charts his vast contribution to science and medicine. He has won more than 220 awards, including the prestigious US National Medal of Science and US National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
His name appears on 1,024 patents, and more than 250 companies are using discoveries from the Langer Lab to make drugs and other products.
Based in the Department of Chemical Engineering, the Langer Lab uses biotechnology to develop better material used in medicine, whether for delivering drugs or healing wounds. Langer still spends the majority of his time working with postdoctoral and graduate students in the lab.
He does not run the companies that he helps start; rather he typically serves as an adviser or member of the board of directors.
Still his imprint on a new health care company is the kind of endorsement that matters to the venture capitalists who back upstart biotech firms and the major pharmaceutical companies that often buy them.
“Bob’s track record has been extraordinary, and his lab has been so important in generating transformative science,” said Terry McGuire, general partner at the venture capital firm Polaris Partners. The Waltham firm has funded 18 startups that have grown out of the Langer Lab, including Bind Therapeutics.
But more than just helping to produce successful commercial ventures, McGuire said, Langer is leading a team at MIT that is changing medicine and improving the lives of millions of people. “That’s the magic of Langer Lab,” he said.
Langer has helped launch T2 Biosystems Inc., a Lexington maker of disease diagnostic products; Arsenal Medical Inc. of Watertown that is working on technology to stop internal bleeding; Cambridge’s Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc. that makes an anti-blood clotting drug; and Living Proof Inc., a hair care company in Cambridge.
And that reputation is also attracting a growing number of researchers who are eager to work in a lab that has a reputation for producing research that can form the basis of new commercial ventures.
“I specifically chose Bob’s lab because I wanted to learn how to conduct research that could move to clinical trials,” said Jeff Karp, a cofounder of Gecko Biomedical whose research dating to 2005 led to the formation of the company this year.
Gecko will be headquartered in France because its financial backers are located there, but it will maintain strong ties to the Boston area.
An associate professor at Harvard Medical School, Karp will serve as chairman of the company’s scientific and clinical advisory board.
As is typical, Langer will also play an advisory role at Gecko. In all, he spends about six hours a week working on the “non-MIT stuff,” as he called it — or the commercial pursuits that have resulted from his research efforts.
The rest of his time is spent working with the students that Langer said are still his biggest priorities.
“It’s the MIT stuff that lays the foundation for all these companies,” he said.