Lilly, others pump VC into biotech firm-WEB ONLY

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By J.K. Wall

Eli Lilly and Co. has joined three of its fiercest rivals to invest $40 million in a Massachusetts-based biotech company with potentially breakthrough drug technology.

Aileron Therapeutics announced the funding Monday from Indianapolis-based Lilly, as well as Novartis AG and Roche Holding AG, both based in Switzerland, and GlaxoSmithKline PLC, based in the United Kingdom.

Aileron will use the money to advance its “stapled” peptide program toward clinical trials in 2010. Stapled peptides are proteins that are synthetically formed into a special shape that helps them penetrate cells more efficiently and bind tightly to specific proteins.

Aileron is trying to use the stapling technology to create medicines to treat otherwise “undruggable” diseases and cancers.

“We believe that Stapled Peptides could represent a ‘fourth estate’ in therapeutics, emerging as a major class akin to small molecules, antibodies and vaccines,” said Dr. Michael Diem, a partner at GlaxoSmithKline’s venture-capital arm SR One Ltd.

Reuters reported that the venture-capital divisions of big pharmaceutical companies have taken a more active role in funding young biotech firms as the credit crunch has turned off much of the financing from conventional venture-capital firms.

Aileron had previously raised $20 million from traditional venture-capital funds.

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