Indianapolis, a hotbed of insulin research, development and manufacturing, is about to get another player.
Thermalin Inc., a Cleveland-based biotech startup that just won $17.5 million in venture capital to develop new insulin therapies, plans to add several researchers to a lab at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
The company said it initially will have two or three researchers collaborating with a lab at the medical school, and could add a small lab of its own in the future.
Why the Indy expansion? It's all about connections. Thermalin's scientific founder, Dr. Michael Weiss, is moving to Indianapolis in December from Cleveland to begin a new job as chair of IU School of Medicine’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
He will also lead the chemical biology and biotherapeutics efforts for the IU Precision Health Initiative. That ambitious initiative, announced last year, aims to cure at least one cancer and one childhood disease, as well as find ways to prevent one chronic illness and one neurodegenerative disease. IU plans to hire 40 faculty and spend up to $120 million on the effort.
“Initially, Thermalin will be collaborating with Dr. Weiss’s new lab at Indiana University,” a company spokeswoman wrote in an email. “The company may establish an 800-square-foot lab there after Dr. Weiss is established.”
Additionally, Bruce Frank, the company vice president of development, is based in Indianapolis.
Weiss comes from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, where he created new molecular designs for insulin therapies.
Case Western licensed the technology exclusively to Thermalin, a privately held company founded in 2010. Its main laboratories are located at the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center in Cleveland. The company also has a business office in Waban, Mass.
What Thermalin is doing is trying to re-engineer the insulin molecule to be more stable and to act more selectively. The company said it hopes the new formulations of the molecules will enable new delivery devices and systems that make it easier for people to manage their diabetes, an often frustrating experience.
Last week, Thermalin announced a worldwide collaboration with French pharmaceutical company Sanofi to develop novel, engineering insulin analogues, or altered forms of insulin that help patients control their blood sugar.
The company also announced the closing of an early round of financing, which is being led by Sanofi, with participation by JSR mblVC LifeScience Investment Limited Partnership of Tokyo, Green Park & Golf Ventures of Dallas, Thermalin’s existing investors, and other undisclosed investors.
The funding will be used to expand the company’s R&D team.
Indianapolis is home to numerous insulin researchers and makers, including Eli Lilly and Co., which manufactures Humalog and Humulin, along with several other insulin brands. Earlier this year, Lilly announced plans to invest $85 million to expand a manufacturing operation at its technology center southwest of downtown that assembles Trulicity injection pens for diabetes patients.
In addition, Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk has set up a research laboratory at Purdue Research Park near the Indianapolis International Airport, where researchers, led by Richard DiMarchi, are studying new ways to treat diabetes and obesity.