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each of the four major variations of PI3 kinase, as well as combinations of them and other molecules in the pathway, he says. Out of that library of 1,500 different candidates, Intellikine has now chosen four lead molecules with potential to advance further in its pipeline.
One reason Intellikine has been able to focus on basic science and drug discovery, and cast such a wide net, is that it can do so relatively cheaply. The startup, which has 22 employees, generated that library of compounds through a partnership with a 15-person company it helped establish in Shanghai, China, called Chemikine. Pingda Ren, who got his chemistry doctorate in China, has served as a critical liaison in managing that San Diego-to-China collaboration, by typically working the phone to Shanghai 2-3 hours to keep everything running smoothly, Wilson says.
“It has been a remarkably productive partnership,” Wilson says. “A lot of people go to China for cost reasons, but we went there for quality as well as cost.”
The new money will now go toward advancing the four chosen drug candidates forward to where more value is created, in clinical trials. The lead molecule, INK128, actually isn’t made to block the PI3 kinase itself, but another target further downstream in the pathway called the mTORc1/2 complex, Wilson says. That drug candidate has shown effectiveness against cancer in multiple animal models and is being prepared for its initial clinical trial within 12 months, he says. Behind that in the pipeline, Intellikine has a drug made to block two of the PI3 kinase subtypes as a way to treat inflammatory diseases and cancer.
Intellikine will look to advance those products without significantly expanding its staff, by contracting out much of the work and looking for help from partners when needed, Wilson says. “We need to be very efficient with our cash,” Wilson says.
That’s a recurring theme we’ve seen. Calistoga raised $30 million back in May, and said it wasn’t going to hire more staff either, to be careful to make sure the money lasts. “We’re fortunate in that we were founded in a difficult environment, and it has affected how we’ve built and run the company,” Wilson says. “We need to show some human proof of concept on one or two programs with the money we raised. If we do, then we can go to the next level.”
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