“Recognition from a high-profile organization like the BioPharm America™ conference has been tremendous for Cocoon,” Ailis Tweed-Kent, MD, founder and CEO of Cocoon Biotech says. Winning the overall competition for pitches and most investible company during the Startup Day event at the 2016 conference “validates the company and our vision. As a result, we’ve received additional interest from investors and collaborators.
“Because we have a platform technology, we are seeking opportunities to collaborate and partner with other companies,” Dr. Tweed-Kent continues. “BioPharm America, therefore, is a great conference that helps us develop strong contacts with key individuals at major companies.”
Through those relationships, Cocoon has the opportunity to talk with myriad companies about its technology and learn how it can provide value to other players throughout the industry. “This is a great place to establish and build relationships with biopharma that may resonate down the line,” she reiterates.
Silk as an arthritis treatment
Formed in 2013, Cocoon Biotech uses biocompatible silk fibroin as a drug delivery vehicle to treat osteoarthritis. The work advances that of Tufts University professor David Kaplan, who patented the use of silk as a novel biomaterial. Silk fibroin can be loaded with small molecule- or protein-based therapeutics and injected directly into joints to provide long-lasting relief of pain and inflammation. The silk fibroin has high tensile strength and is versatile material for drug delivery.
Still in preclinical development, silk fibroin by Cocoon is being positioned to compete against synthetic polymers like PEG, PLA and PLGA. The benefits, Tweed-Kent explains, are that silk fibroin is natural, biodegradable and biocompatible in humans. The Cocoon Biotech intra-articular drug product is expected to be safer and more efficacious than many current treatments for osteoarthritis. The silk fibroin from Cocoon helps stabilize protein and small molecule drugs and, in addition, silk fibroin/drug formulations enable extended release of the active ingredient throughout many months. It also is easy to manufacture to scale, she adds.
Since last September’s competition, Cocoon has made significant advances in both its scientific platform and business development. It began planning its regulatory strategy in the spring. So far, she says, “We’ve completed biocompatibility studies, finalized our formulation, begun conferring with external manufacturers and are well advanced in pivotal efficacy studies in large animal models.”
Tweed-Kent says she expects read-outs from large animal efficacy studies this summer. “That’s an exciting milestone because demonstrating efficacy will enable us to begin toxicology studies around the end of 2017.”
To fund those studies, Cocoon has closed one round of funding and currently is raising Series A capital. “We’re looking to raise USD 10 to 12 million and expect to close the funding round this fall,” Tweed-Kent says.
Collaborations are important
“Winning at BioPharm America’s Startup Day definitely helped us attract a wide array of potential collaborators, from regulatory consultants to research organizations and pharmaceutical companies.” The visibility Cocoon received helped it gain traction within the broader industry. As a company of eight, collaborations within the industry are vital.
As one example, Tweed-Kent points to Cocoon’s partnership with Camargo Pharmaceutical Services. The two are working together to develop Cocoon’s regulatory strategy, beginning with pre-Investigational New Drug (IND) meeting planning through New Drug Application (NDA) submissions.
“We’re focused initially on osteoarthritis, but we can target many disease areas,” Tweed-Kent says. “We’re looking for opportunities where the silk fibroin can become a delivery vehicle to benefit new or existing drugs. The eventual goal is to build out a broad drug delivery platform based on the silk fibroin technology.
Whether Cocoon is acquired, partners or goes public is a question for a later date. Right now, she stresses, the most important thing is to deliver the product to patients. “We look to partner with companies that can enable our lead product and subsequent products as well. We’re open-minded. We don’t have a set endpoint.”
How to pitch effectively
Thinking back to her presentations at BioPharm America’s Startup Day, her advice to companies considering participating in that event is straightforward. “Be authentic to your vision and passion. When potential investors and partners are evaluating your company, they want to understand the problem you are trying to solve, how your approach is different and how you plan to execute that approach. The pitch is all about communicating a vision and creating a story about the problem you’re trying to solve. Tell that story. Then discuss the technology.”
Too often, she says, scientists and CEOs—often one and the same at startup companies—present the technology first. They are so excited about a solution that they allow it to overshadow the reason that technology was developed. Instead, she stresses, “focus on how your approach will help patients.”
This advice isn’t based solely on her BioPharm America win. The strength of her proposals twice won Cocoon the coveted Amgen Golden Ticket—sponsored space at LabCentral in Boston’s Kendall Square. In addition to providing bench space for one year, the Golden Ticket provides the opportunity to network with biotech visionaries and thus accelerate the company’s development. In February, the Boston Business Journal named Dr. Tweed-Kent as one of the 2017 Women to Watch in Science and Technology. Clearly, “story before technology” is good advice.