More Pain in the Portfolio

Pain and suffering are in the business headlines a lot lately. However, it’s not usually in the context of sought-after investments.

But, looking at venture investments over the past two months, it’s clear that pain – or, the least, the treatment of it – is very much in vogue. Since late October, VCs have backed rounds totaling more than $86 million in at least five companies developing novel pain therapies.

The latest, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Afferent Pharmaceuticals, announced today that it closed a $23 million Series A round to develop treatments for chronic pain based on research licensed from Roche. Pappas Ventures, and Third Rock Ventures led the financing round, with participation from Domain Associates and New Leaf Venture Partners. The money will go toward accelerating development of pain therapies that work with a targeted class of receptors, or protein molecules that respond to neurotransmitters.

Two others that raised big rounds recently are Spinal Modulation and Zogenix. Spinal Modulation, based in Menlo Park, develops a spinal cord stimulator system to treat patients suffering from chronic back pain. It raised $27 million in November from backers including MedVenture Associates, Johnson & Johnson, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, De Novo Ventures, and DFJ InCube Ventures.

Zogenix, based in San Diego, develops medicines to treat central nervous system disorders and pain. It raised $35 million in December, bringing total funding since 2006 to $150 million. Backers in the most recent round include Scale Venture Partners, Chicago Growth Partners, Domain Associates, Abingworth Management, Thomas, McNerney & Partners, and Clarus Ventures.

AIKO Biotechnology and Neuros Medical raised smaller rounds. Portland, Maine-based Aiko,  an early stage drug discovery company focused on pain management and opioid addiction, raised $1.2 million in December from Small Enterprise Growth Fund, Action Equity, LLC, and Supply Chain Ventures. Cleveland-based Neuros Medical, developer o technology or treating chronic pain and spasticity, raised $1.8 million in late October from backers including North Coast Angel Fund, Ohio Tech Angels Fund, and Glengary Ventures.

The impetus for all these rounds? Pain treatment is a growth industry, particularly for innovative players. Research firm Decision Resources estimated in a November report that the neuropathic pain drug market—driven by the launches of several novel therapies—will increase from $6 billion in 2008 to $9.7 billion in 2018 in the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and Japan.