The Biotech Landscape of the Greater New Haven Hub

By Samuel Kitara & Jun Chen

A Fast-Growing Biotech Hub

With over $1.3 billion in disclosed private financing over the last 6 years, a total public market valuation of nearly $40 billion, and more than a dozen first-in-class small molecules and biologics for intractable diseases, the biotechnology startups that call the Greater New Haven hub home are making their mark, fast! In this blog, we lay out the landscape of drug discovery and development for small molecules and biologics in one of America’s fastest growing stealth hubs. Nearly 70% of all biotech companies in the hub are in the New Haven — Farmington — Guilford axis, a validation of the central role this axis plays as the epicenter. The cities of Branford, Stamford and Westport are equally an up & coming story in the hub.

Figure 1. Cities driving biotechnology innovation in the Greater New Haven hub. Numbers represent actual companies in each city.

Oncology, Neurology & Rare Disease Dominate Greater New Haven’s Landscape.

Echoing a growing theme across the US biotech landscape, the Greater New Haven story is no different; most startups founded in the last six years are developing cancer drugs and in line with that, the bulk of financing is going towards this. Roughly 25 percent of all biotech companies in the hub have an oncology drug in the discovery or preclinical phase. The breadth of pioneering technologies spans targeted protein degradation, immunotherapy and AI-driven discovery platforms.

Surprisingly, neurology/ neurosciences is equally robust, accounting for 11 of the hub’s companies. The technologies deployed target a wide range of neuropsychiatric diseases ranging from Parkinson’s disease to Alzheimer’s, stroke and traumatic brain injury.

Rare diseases, a legacy therapeutic area for the hub, remains strong, even as the tide of innovation funding shifts to oncology and neurology. 8 of the hub’s startups almost exclusively focus on rare pediatric disorders.

Figure 2. Therapeutic areas covered by companies in the Greater New Haven hub. Numbers represent companies with pipelines in each area.

First-in-Class Drugs & Highly Innovative Companies

In oncology, Science Park, New Haven-based Arvinas Inc leads the way, powered by pioneering research in the emerging field of protein degradation. This clinical-stage biotech is leveraging targeted protein degradation to reimagine the possibilities for previously undruggable targets. With a pipeline that includes protein degraders and proteolysis targeting chimeras, Arvinas has diligently selected its indications which include some of the most difficult-to-treat solid tumors with huge unmet medical needs. They include, among others, metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer and estrogen receptor positive metastatic breast cancer. Arvinas’ degraders are designed to harness the body’s own natural protein disposal system to selectively and efficiently degrade and remove disease-causing proteins in these cancers. Arvinas’ breakthroughs have garnered interest from biotech and pharma behemoths such as Genentech, Pfizer and Bayer Pharmaceuticals.

Among oncology startups founded less than 4 years ago, Cybrexa Therapeutics leads the pack. With an ingenious tumor-targeting platform dubbed “alphalex”, Cybrexa is quietly building new applications and combinations of existing cancer therapeutics using a focused intracellular drug delivery approach whose mechanism of action is independent of surface antigens. For old experimental drugs and that may have been long shelved because of their toxicity concerns, Cybrexa may provide a new lifeline. The New-Haven based biotech is reimagining the limits of toxicity in drug development. It remains to be seen if this technology can live up to its promise in the clinic.

At the nexus of biomedicine and artificial intelligence, AI Therapeutics is heralding a new breed of companies in the Greater New Haven hub. Its deep learning meets combinatorial drug screening and genomics, with a laser focus on speed by skipping long R&D cycles. To achieve this, the Guilford-based biotechuses a proprietary Artificial Intelligence algorithm, aptly named “Guardian Angel” to predict novel treatments for diseases with unparalleled accuracy.

Farmington/Branford-based EvolveImmune Therapeutics and Greenwich-based Oncosynergy round up the select list of startups pioneering medical breakthroughs in immunotherapy and providing hope for patients. We dig deeper into the science, deals and brain power behind them in upcoming blogs.

Figure 3. Companies with oncology drugs in their pipeline in the Greater New Haven biotechnology hub. Majority of startups were founded in the last 7 years.

In Neurology, BioHaven Pharmaceuticals is setting the bar high with category leadership in neuropsychiatric disorders. BioHaven is developing a broad class of agonists and inhibitors with commendable clinical and regulatory success thus far. Its core platform is largely based on calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) receptor antagonists, a class of drug candidates targeting the pain signaling pathway with potential to transform the management of migraines and pain. BioHaven is also harnessing the ubiquitous neurotransmitter glutamate to target impulse control disorders.

The newer group of clinical-stage neurology/neuroscience biotech companies is led by New Haven-based Aeromics Inc and BioXcel Therapeutics. Aeromics’ discovery engine hinges on an application of water physiology and membrane biochemistry to mitigate the symptoms of severe, acute ischemic stroke by preventing brain swelling (cerebral edema) following an ischemic event. Its next-door neighbor BioXcel hopes to make a dent in the universe of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders such as schizophrenia and dementia.

Yale University’s basic neuroscience research needs no introduction. However, biotech startups that build off this research and use it as a launchpad for drug development at home, in the university’s backyard, have long been elusive; out licensing partnerships notwithstanding. If this emerging class of startups can pull it off and stay local, we may very well be watching the birth of a neuroscience-based biotech power house.

Figure 4. Companies with Neurology/Neuroscience drugs in their pipeline in the Greater New Haven biotechnology hub. Majority of startups were founded in the last 7 years.

New Haven-based Rallybio is leading the next wave of Rare disease companies, picking up from where Alexion Pharmaceuticals left off. With a current preclinical pipeline targeting fetal and neonatal alloimmune thrombocytopenia and immuno-inflammation, Rallybio is looking to build a robust array of assets that includes small molecules, engineered proteins and antibodies. To date, Rallybio has secured $180M in venture financing from the likes of Canaan Partners, F-Prime and 5AM ventures, affording it enough runway to catapult its lead compounds into the clinical stage.

Figure 4. Companies with Rare disease drugs in their pipeline in the Greater New Haven biotechnology hub. Majority of startups were founded in the last 7 years.

Homegrown Intellectual Property & Talent Fuels the Ecosystem

37% of biotech startups in Connecticut, as well as 44% of the public therapeutics companies, are originated from or affiliated with Yale University — primarily through the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation and the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’ Innovation Fund; quarterbacked by the Yale Office of Cooperative Research (“OCR”). 13% of all privately-held startups are from the University of Connecticut’s Technology Incubation Program (TIP), a percentage that’s growing. It remains to be seen whether the hub can attract external companies; to date, only a handful of non-homegrown biotech companies have located their research and development or manufacturing operations in Connecticut.

Closing Thoughts

It’s still early days for the Greater New Haven hub, but there is no shortage of first-in-class and potentially [serial optimist alert!], best-in-class drugs powered by breathtaking science. Many of these companies are clinical stage biopharmaceuticals with no approved drugs yet, but their promise is unmistakable. We hope you take the long ride on the passenger seat with us as we watch this marathon race to the clinic unfold.

drug hunter, serial optimist, finance