In VC ‘Hat Trick’ for San Diego’s Avalon, RQx Inks Genentech Deal

2/12/13Follow @bvbigelow

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three other deals—Otonomy, Carolus Therapeutics, and Avelas Biosciences—and Lichter said he still sees a “big win potential with all three.”

Avalon’s investment in RQx followed a chance encounter in 2010 between Turner and Floyd Romesberg, an associate professor specializing in biological and biophysical chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute. Romesberg’s lab had showed how a mutation in the binding site of an essential enzyme (signal peptidase) provided both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria a defense against arylomycin, a small-molecule antibiotic known for decades.

If only arylomycin could be optimized to bind tightly with signal peptidase, Romesberg said it would be a potent, broad-spectrum antibiotic—effective against even multidrug-resistant pathogens like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

When I talked to Turner in November, he said, the RQx scientific team had shown that the binding site was a valid target, and they had added hundreds of arylomycin analogs to the RQx library. Since then, he said RQx “has generated some very promising in vivo data” in studies using mice.

One aspect about the initial investment in 2010 that Turner said he liked was that the two graduate students who had worked on arylomycin in Romesberg’s lab would join the startup. “This is all they did for the previous six years while they were working on their Ph.D.s,” Turner told me.

In today’s statement, RQx says the goal of its partnership with Genentech is “the discovery and development of novel drug compounds for an undisclosed target.” When I asked if the startup has any compounds under development besides arylomycin, Turner said, “RQx has developed multiple series of compounds that will be further interrogated as a result of the deal with Genentech.”

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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