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Genocea Biosciences raises an extra $35 million to develop new vaccines

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 3, 2011 07:52 AM

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Genocea Biosciences Inc. is announcing today that it has attracted an additional $35 million in funding, some of it from the venture capital arm of Johnson & Johnson. Genocea, with just 34 employees, has now raised more than $60 million.

The Cambridge start-up has a new approach to developing vaccines that it says is faster and less expensive than established methods, especially for stealthy bacteria that have been difficult for traditional vaccines to target. Genocea says its vaccines seek to employ T cells, a kind of white blood cell ordinarily found in the body, to trigger a powerful immune response. But identifying the right T cell antigens to use in a vaccine has typically been a haphazard process that Genocea says it can make more methodical. Chip Clark, the company’s chief business officer says, “Our technology allows us to go from the blackboard to proof-of-concept in animals to vaccines that work in humans very quickly."

Clark says the new funding will be used, in part, to shepherd a vaccine for herpes simplex-2 through clinical trials. (About 15 percent of people in the U.S. suffer from herpes simplex-2.) Genocea is also developing vaccines for malaria and streptococcus pneumoniae, which is the leading killer of children under the age of five worldwide. Genocea’s scientific founders are both Harvard professors: Darren Higgins and David Sinclair. The company recently hired Seth Hetherington, formerly at the North Carolina biotech Icagen Inc., as its chief medical officer. The company is in the final stages of recruiting a chief executive to replace Robert Paull, the venture capitalist who served as its initial CEO.

Clark says the company won't be doing "exorbitant hiring," but will use the new money to bring on some additional regulatory and clinical affairs employees.

Joining Johnson & Johnson in this latest round are Skyline Ventures and MP Healthcare Venture Management. The company has also attracted about $6 million in grants from the Gates Foundation and the Department of Defense.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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