ImaRx, Led by Former Icos Manager, Comes to Town

1/20/09Follow @xconomy

ImaRx Therapeutics, a biotech company developing a new ultrasound-based stroke treatment, has moved its headquarters from Tucson, AZ, to Redmond, WA, as it attempts to get back on its feet again after a one-two punch of devastating setbacks.

ImaRx (Imm-uh-Rex) is led by CEO Bradford Zakes, who formed his connections with the Seattle area from 2001 to 2005. He spent those years at Bothell, WA-based Icos directing outsourcing operations for the hit erectile dysfunction drug tadalafil (Cialis).

Zakes’s new company is a reclamation project—he didn’t try to pretend otherwise in our conversation—but it sounds like one with potential to make a big difference in treating stroke patients. Current clot-dissolving drugs, like Genentech’s alteplase (Activase) can only be used within about three hours of an ischemic stroke in which clots block access of blood to the brain. The ImaRx technique theoretically could be used for several hours later, giving doctors enough time to salvage significant parts of the brain from being damaged, Zakes says. Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., killing 160,000 people each year, and the No. 1 cause of adult disability, according to the National Stroke Association.

The opportunity was big enough to entice IPO investors to buy 3 million shares at $5 each in July 2007, but things went downhill fast from there. ImaRx halted a clinical trial of its lead SonoLysis product candidate for stroke last May, after three patients developed serious bleeding episodes in the study. Then, its one commercially available product, urokinase for busting up blood clots in the lungs, was forced off the market by the FDA until thorough tests could be done to prove it was still stable after sitting around in inventory. Those events forced the company to lay off all of its 50 employees except two, and caused the company’s stock (NASDAQ: IMRX) to evaporate to just mere pennies last fall, until it was de-listed in November.

So who cares now, and what is left to salvage? Not much cash is left, just $2.4 million in the bank at the end of September, according to its last quarterly report filed with the SEC. Still, Zakes says the company has more than 100 patents, more than a decade of development work with world-leading stroke physicians, and a $500,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to do another clinical trial. The cash should be enough to last through 2009, he says. Most importantly, Zakes sounds determined not to be written off. He has some promising clinical trial data that has been accepted as a late-breaking presentation at the International Stroke Conference next month in San Diego, which he hopes will open the eyes of potential partners and investors.

“We think we still have exciting components to build an important biopharmaceutical firm,” Zakes says.

It makes sense for ImaRx to try to get re-established in Seattle because of its long history as a hotbed of ultrasound technology, and because Zakes has strong connections as an “expatriate” from the local biotech scene, says Chris Rivera, president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. ImaRx still has just two employees, Zakes and an accounting director. “It’s a small company, but every one we get is a victory. We’ve got to keep the momentum going here,” Rivera says.

The ImaRx technology is designed to … Next Page »

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