Zenobia Therapeutics, Inspired by Warrior Queen, Focuses on Developing Drug for Parkinson’s Disease

4/22/09Follow @bvbigelow

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Parkinson’s Research. ActiveSite’s closure prompted Nienaber to start her own biotech, with much of the funding coming from the grant, which was initially $350,000, because the Fox Foundation had designated the grant specifically for Nienaber. She is collaborating with Christopher Ross of Johns Hopkins University in identifying molecules that could be used to block the activity of the LRRK2 protein.

Nienaber said the biotech’s name was her husband’s idea. “He was looking at a list of the top 10 bad ass female warriors of all time,” she told me. Zenobia was a 3rd Century Syrian queen who conquered Egypt and expelled its Roman prefect. She was later defeated by Aurelian, who returned her to Rome in a military parade, as a captive in golden chains. (Zenobia was later freed and became a prominent philosopher and Roman matron.)

The biotech currently has eight employees, including part-time workers. “One of the things that’s kind of unique about us is that we have a lot of women here, although it wasn’t by design,” Nienaber said.

At this time, Nienaber said, “Venture capital money is pretty much out of the equation” for Zenobia, chiefly because the biotech is at such an early stage in its research. “So our funding is primarily from grants, contract work, collaborations and such…Foundations are realizing there’s a gap between where companies (like Zenobia) are doing research, and where they actually are getting venture capital funding.”

The company also has been generating some revenues by providing contract services. Last week, for example, Zenobia said it had successfully completed the first phase of a contract services agreement with Syntonix Pharmaceuticals, a Biogen Idec subsidiary, in which Zenobia analyzed and mapped three unique protein structures for Syntonix. “Having access to these new experimental crystal structures will allow us to more efficiently design and develop our internal drug candidates,” Syntonix’ director of chemistry Adam Mezo said in a statement last week.

Zenobia also has developed a kit to help scientists learn fragment screening techniques for use in their laboratory research. “We’ve sold seven kits, and we just announced they were available in March,” Nienaber said. “We’re just trying to bring in money, and when we get some, it just goes right into our research.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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