In this ugly economy, it takes a special recipe of compelling science and willing investors to launch a new biotech startup. Newly hatched biotech TargAnox, which is focused on developing drugs to curb a sometimes disease-related biochemical condition called oxidative stress, has stirred that recipe together in recent months and closed a $5.1 million Series A round of financing, company officials tell Xconomy.
Ascent Biomedical Ventures in New York led the round, providing the majority of capital. Partners Innovation Fund, the venture arm of the Partners HealthCare System in Boston, invested $250,000 in the financing round and helped draw up the initial business strategy for TargAnox, says Roger Kitterman, acting president of TargAnox. Kitterman is a partner at Partners Innovation Fund, which was formed in 2007 by Partners’ founding medical centers, Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
TargAnox is commercializing discoveries from the lab of its scientific founder, Joseph Loscalzo, who is chief of medicine at Brigham and Women’s in Boston. The firm aims to develop drugs—likely biotherapeutics such as antibodies—that protect cells from oxidative stress caused by diseases, Kitterman says.
Oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance of reactive oxygen molecules that can harm cells and even cause cellular death. Protecting cells from oxidative stress could provide new treatments for multiple illnesses including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Kitterman says that the company hasn’t yet decided which diseases it will target. “We’re going to go where the biology leads us,” he says.
Developing drugs focused on oxidative stress has led some other biotechs into dead ends, however. For example, Lexington, MA-based Synta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:SNTA) last month put the brakes on a Phase III clinical trial for elesclomol, a skin-cancer treatment designed to kill cancer cells by triggering oxidative stress. In 2007, drug giant GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK) paid Synta an initial sum of $80 million in a deal potentially worth $1.1 billion for rights to the drug, but last month Synta had to halt its trial of the drug prematurely after interim results showed that more patients taking elesclomol were dying than those who weren’t on the drug.
For his part, Kitterman notes that the treatments that TargAnox plans to develop are intended to have the opposite effect of Synta’s cancer drug, reducing the effects of oxidative stress rather than boosting them. TargAnox plans to make treatments that target specific proteins that get altered by disease-related oxidative stress.
TargAnox has enough cash to support its research-focused operations for more than two years, after which the company expects to have identified at least its first drug candidate and plans to raise a second round of financing, Kitterman says. The company, which has a small office for finance operations in New York, is in the process of finding office and lab space in the Boston area.
Company founder Loscalzo was also founder of Lexington-based drug developer NitroMed (NASDAQ:NTMD). And NitroMed’s former chief scientist, L. Gordon Letts, is a founder and chief scientist of TargAnox. NitroMed is known widely in biotech circles for bringing to the market heart failure drug isosorbide dinitrate/hydralazine hydrochloride (BiDil) for black patients in 2005. But sales of the product have haven’t taken off, dropping from $15.3 million in 2007 to $14.9 million last year.
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