Pico Pharmaceuticals, In Its Early Days, Aims to Make More Potent Cancer Drugs, Anti-Bacterials

3/16/09Follow @xconomy

One out of three biotech companies in the U.S. are running down to their last six months of cash, but biotech entrepreneurs are continuing to start new companies. The latest one to cross my desk is San Diego-based Pico Pharmaceuticals, which emerged last week on the local biotech scene in style, with a scientific paper in Nature Chemical Biology that offers clues into how it might be able to make more potent anti-bacterial drugs.

Anyone with less than a PhD in molecular biology would probably have a hard time understanding why this paper is important, so I asked CEO Tim Boyd to help cut through the jargon. He was happy to talk, especially since he’s been spending a lot of time telling this story, while raising money in New York.

Pico is built on two decades of research by Vern Schramm at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. The idea is that conventional small-molecule drugs can be made to hit targets on cells, but they often alter the shape of that bull’s-eye in the process. That makes a receptor more like a moving target in which the drug becomes less potent and effective over time, Boyd says. The researchers at Einstein sought to solve this problem through what’s called transition state quantum chemistry, which essentially takes an ultra-fast snapshot of a target at the precise moment you want the drug to hit it. Armed with that knowledge, and a partnership with researchers in New Zealand that make compounds to hit these targets, Pico has gotten up and running.

“The theory is that if you have a molecule that looks a lot more like the target, it will bind tighter,” Boyd says. “Our drugs hit the target, and they don’t come off.”

What that really means in practical terms is that such drugs shouldn’t cause as many side effects, which typically pop up when less-specific drugs spray out and hit a variety of targets. Pico’s drugs also could be cheaper to make … Next Page »

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