For years, doctors have prescribed patients combination therapies to better treat certain diseases.
But this usually happens after two drugs have been approved separately and doctors have found that the drugs work well together. Now a company founded by big names in biotech wants to create cancer therapies that are meant to do this from the start.
IDRx, which stands for “intelligently designed combination therapies,” came out of stealth mode on Tuesday with $122 million in funding, led by Andreessen Horowitz and Casdin Capital.
The company is in the clinical stage of drug development, having licensed small molecule drugs from Germany’s Merck KGaA Merck and Cambridge biotech Blueprint Medicines that would be used to treat gastrointestinal stromal tumors, a type of cancer involving the digestive system.
Although IDRx is new, the idea behind it – combining drugs to fight disease – is over 20 years old. This is what led serial biotech entrepreneur and investor Alexis Borisy to launch Cambridge-based CombinatoRx in 2000.
“We said let’s combine all the possible drugs we could get our hands on and see what we could learn,” Borisy said. “[It was] really kind of a brute force approach.
The business eventually fell apart, but Borisy still believed in the premise. So when scientists at Merck approached him just over a year ago with what they thought was the best-in-class molecule for a type of cancer, he had an idea.
The molecule could work well on its own, Borisy reasoned, but he wondered if it might be more effective if developed in combination with another drug. He was encouraged that, unlike the days of CombinatoRx, scientists now have more precise drug engineering capabilities and a deeper understanding of the causes of certain cancers.
“We said, ‘Well, can you do it rationally this time? ‘” Borisy said.
Ben Auspitz, who worked at CombinatoRx and is chief executive of IDRx, said the company has also taken inspiration from successful drug cocktail regimens, such as those developed by Boston biotech Vertex to fight cystic fibrosis. . He hopes to apply the same concept to cancer.
“The nature of this tumor…is such that we really think we know the biology,” Auspitz said.
Borisy brought the idea to Blueprint, where he sits on the board. He thought that the firm probably had a molecule to couple with that of Merck. Blueprint found the molecule, but it didn’t want to embark on a new combination drug program and was willing to license it instead.
Merck’s drug is in the early stages of human trials, and Blueprint’s is expected to enter the clinic next year.
IDRx employs less than 10 people. Its headquarters are in Plymouth, but company employees work remotely in the Boston area.