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Firm gets $32m for gene regulation research

Epizyme work would treat cancer

By Robert Weisman
Globe Staff / October 9, 2009

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Biopharmaceutical start-up Epizyme Inc. of Cambridge yesterday said it landed $32 million in venture capital to develop drugs to treat cancers and other diseases through gene regulation.

Epizyme, which last year received a $14 million first round of funding from venture capital heavyweights MPM Capital of Boston and Kleiner Perkins Cauflield and Byers of Menlo Park, Calif., will use its new money to run “proof-of-concept’’ studies with its lead compounds, said Kazumi Shiosaki, cofounder and chief executive.

Shiosaki said the goal is to identify a drug candidate that the two-year-old company can take into clinical trials.

The company currently has 16 employees, all in Cambridge.

“It’s a fundamentally new area of biology,’’ she said. “And we believe this could have applications not only in oncology but also in inflammatory conditions and certain neurological disorders.’’

The company is one of a handful, including another Cambridge firm, Constellation Pharmaceuticals Inc., working in the emerging field of epigenetics, which seeks to control how genes are read by molecules that convert them into proteins.

The goal is to be able to produce inhibitors for enzymes involved in cancer and other diseases.

“What we’re trying to do is inhibit enzymes that can regulate certain genes, turning them on and off,’’ Shiosaki said. “There are tumor suppressor genes that are turned off, and this mechanism can turn them back on. And it can turn off genes that activate tumors.’’

Epizyme’s latest venture round was led by a new investor, Bay City Capital of San Francisco. Joining it were two other new investors, Astellos Venture Management of Los Altos, Calif., and Amgen Ventures, a financing arm of biotechnology giant Amgen Inc. in Thousand Oaks, Calif., along with MPM Capital and Kleiner Perkins.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com.