VentiRx Nabs $25M for Cancer, Allergy Drugs

1/12/10Follow @xconomy

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in a statement that VentiRx has potential to create “first-in-class drugs for significant diseases.”

“We hit all of our Series A milestones, and we’ve also had significant interest from potential partners,” Kamdar says.

Rob Hershberg, VentiRx’s chief scientific officer, told me a year ago how VentiRx found some hidden gems when it licensed in small-molecule drug candidates from Boulder, CO-based Array Biopharma (NASDAQ: ARRY). The drugs were made to hit TLR8, but at the time VentiRx got started in 2006, most scientists weren’t interested in that target because it wasn’t something that could be tested adequately in mice, the dominant animal model in most biology. VentiRx theorized that if it could prove the concept of TLR8 stimulation in primates, it could offer a more compelling body of evidence that this idea could work in people.

While the first drug candidate is thought to help stimulate the immune system to kill cancer cells, VentiRx had a completely different idea in mind for another application—allergies. The company reformulated a TLR8 stimulating compound into a low-dose nasal spray, which essentially creates a diversion of sorts in the mucus lining of the nose so that people don’t get the strong immune response that leads to runny and stuffy nose, watery eyes, and all the telltale symptoms that about 30 million people endure in the U.S.

That second VentiRx compound has passed a safety study of 37 healthy volunteers in the Netherlands, Kamdar says. The company expects additional results from a more rigorous study from Switzerland in which 72 patients were randomly assigned to get the VentiRx drug or a placebo, and then sent into a controlled environment in which they were directly exposed to allergens, Kamdar says. That data is expected by the end of March.

Some important questions still need to be worked out with both compounds, Kamdar says. The 72-patient study was designed with a weekly nasal spray formulation in mind, and the company needs to assess what happens when people get multiple repeat doses. VentiRx also wants to know what will happen if it gives patients its allergy drug as a preventive medicine, in which maybe three to six doses will be given before seasonal allergy season arrives, Kamdar says.

VentiRx was built from the start to stay lean, as a “virtual” organization, and that’s not going to change with this new round of financing, Kamdar says. The company has 12 employees, and plans to keep its headcount in that range, while putting most of the money toward clinical trials of its cancer and allergy drugs, he says.

Rob Hershberg

Rob Hershberg

It sounded like a sign of the times when a company hits all of its milestones laid out in a Series A round—obviously enhancing the value of the company—yet it was still unable to command a higher price for its shares from investors. This made me wonder about the investment community mood, especially since Kamdar and I met in San Francisco, where we are both attending the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, a big annual fundraising meeting.

Kamdar kind of shrugged off the valuation question. “They say now that flat is the new up,” he says. “I’ve heard stories of people getting offered 50 cents on the dollar even after hitting their milestones. We consider ourselves fortunate.”

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