When Barry Fogel first started developing a new treatment 15 years ago, his main goal was to help his own patients. Fogel, a physician trained in both psychiatry and neurology, saw many patients with a movement disorder called tardive dyskinesia (TD). The condition—which can be caused by drugs that block dopamine, such as antipsychotics—is characterized by involuntary movements of the face like puckering, closed eyes, and grimacing. Some patients suffer writhing of their hands and feet, or difficulty moving their upper bodies. “At its worst, it’s quite disfiguring,” Fogel says. And there is no approved drug to treat TD.
Fogel developed a treatment for the condition in the late 1990s, patented it, and set out to try to get it on the market. On Monday, Fogel’s dream took a huge leap towards reality when his Waltham, MA-based company, Synchroneuron, announced it had raised its first round of venture capital—$6 million from Morningside Technology Ventures. It’s enough to take the drug through a substantial portion of the clinical trials Synchroneuron will need to complete to apply for FDA approval, says chief financial officer Marc Cote.
Synchroneuron’s journey from idea to Series A could be a case study in stick-to-it-tiveness—and the value of networking. Fogel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, suspected that modulating two brain chemicals, glutamate and GABA, would relieve TD. So he did a bit of experimenting on his own patients, prescribing them existing drugs that targeted those chemicals but were approved to treat other conditions. “I established that if you modulate glutamate, in particular, the TD gets better,” Fogel says.
So Fogel developed and patented a method for using a drug called acamprosate to do just that, and in 2004, he licensed it to San Diego-based Somaxon Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: SOMX). But Somaxon was developing an insomnia drug, which took precedence over the acamprosate program, Fogel says. “They didn’t give sufficient resources to acamprosate,” he says. “The progress was disappointing.” Somaxon declined to comment. (A sidenote: Somaxon eventually did get its insomnia drug on the market, but has struggled to make it stand out in a competitive market.)
In 2007, Fogel got his patents back from Somaxon and began looking for an alternate path to FDA approval. It wasn’t easy: Fogel and his wife had to do all the work to … Next Page »
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