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Department of Biological Engineering

From Idea To Marketplace: The Boston Ecosystem At Work

How One Company, Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc. Of Cambridge, Went From Research Breakthrough To IPO In A Few Short Years

By Robert Weisman, Boston Globe Staff | July 26, 2004

STUDYING SUGARS: Scientists at MIT labored through the 1990s to understand the role of complex sugars, which coat cells and can serve as a conduit for viruses and diseases. An initial breakthrough came in 1993, when assistant professor Ram Sasisekharan cloned the first Heparin sugar-degrading enzyme in MIT's biomedical engineering lab.

THE EUREKA MOMENT: In April 1999, Sasisekharan, research associate Ganesh Venkataraman, and graduate students Zachary Shriver and Rahul Raman became the first scientists to develop a process for determining the structure of complex sugars. The four were eating pizza late at night in Sasisekharan's cramped office in MIT's Building 16 when they realized they had cracked the code by using computers to piece together diverse sugar measurements.

SPREADING THE WORD: MIT's team published its findings in the October 1999 issue of Science magazine and discussed them at a Stockholm conference. "Everyone felt we had it," Sasisekharan recalled.

A STARTUP GETS FUNDING: Sasisekharan joined with his MIT mentor, biotechnology research pioneer Robert S. Langer, and Venkataraman to found Momenta on May 17, 2001. They received a $250,000 seed round of funding on Aug. 16, led by Polaris Venture Partners in Waltham. MIT's Technology Licensing Office granted the company the right to use the MIT-owned technology in exchange for equity, licensing fees, and potential royalties.

SETTING UP SHOP: Flush with $6.2 million from a Series A funding round led by Polaris and Cardinal Partners on April 16, 2002, Momenta moved to new offices in Cambridge on May 1. Alan L. Crane, recruited from Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Cambridge, reported on May 31 as Momenta's chairman and chief executive officer. Researchers began working on new drugs and technologies based on their novel understanding of sugars.

STAR POWER: The company in mid-2002 tapped into Boston's medical institutions to assemble a scientific advisory board that included high-profile Harvard Medical School professors M. Judah Folkman of Children's Hospital and Eugene Braunwald of Brigham and Women's Hospital.

FOLLOW-ON FUNDING: With its team in place and its drug discovery underway, Momenta drew additional venture capital: $19 million on May 9, 2003, in a Series B round led by Atlas Venture of Waltham and MVM Ltd. of Cambridge, and $20.5 million on Feb. 27, 2004, in a Series C round by Polaris, Cardinal, Atlas, MVM, and Mithra Group.

BUILDING A PIPELINE: Momenta now employs about 45 people and has 100 patents and applications. Its researchers are working on a generic form of Lovenox, a sugar used as a blood thinner; an engineered Heparin product for acute coronary syndrome; technology that permits inhalation rather than injection of drugs; and, anticancer drugs based on an understanding of the role of sugars in cancer formation. These products are on track to enter the market over the next several years.

THE IPO: On June 21, the company raised $34.8 million in an initial public offering to fund its drug development. Momenta sold 5.35 million shares at $6.50 each and was listed on the Nasdaq market under the symbol MNTA.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.

 

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