Zacharon Raises $5.7 Million from VCs, Government, Hires CEO

11/18/08Follow @xconomy

Zacharon Pharmaceuticals has gotten a shot of cash to develop a new class of drugs. The San Diego company said it has raised $3.5 million in a Series A venture round provided by Avalon Ventures, along with $2.2 million in research grants from the National Institutes of Health. The company also named Jay Lichter of Avalon as its CEO.

The money will be used to develop Zacharon’s lead small-molecule drugs, which are designed to block glycan (complex carbohydrate) targets in the body. The startup’s leading drug candidate is for mucopolysaccaridosis (MPS), a rare genetic disease in which faulty or missing enzymes cause an excess buildup of complex carbohydrates in the body, that leads to nerve damage, physical deformities, and harms mental development. Novato, CA-based BioMarin Pharmaceuticals and Cambridge, MA-based Genzyme co-market a drug for one form of this condition, laronidase (Aldurazyme), that generated $122 million in sales last year.

Zacharon says its drug may be the first therapy to treat the neurological symptoms associated with MPS, as opposed to just treating non-neurological symptoms and pain, because small molecules can cross the blood-brain barrier while existing treatments don’t.

“Past attempts at developing drugs that target glycans have been limited by slow and expensive carbohydrate chemistry, as well as the lack of glycan-targeted high-throughput screening methods, making it impossible to screen small-molecule libraries,” Lichter said in a statement. “Zacharon has developed the technology and now has the financial backing to dominate the field of glycan-targeted drug discovery.”

The financing from San Diego-based Avalon should provide enough of a boost to get Zacheron’s lead compounds through animal safety studies and into early clinical trials, the company says. As part of the financing, Zacharon filled two other key management roles besides the CEO. The company hired Doug Downs as chief financial officer and Court Turner as chief operating officer.

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