TRImaran Licenses WSU Compounds to Develop Neuro Drugs

TRImaran Pharma aims to take on a group of neurological diseases, like depression, by developing drugs that impact three different types of neurotransmitters in the brain. Those drug prospects come from Wayne State University, which licensed a group of molecules to the company this week for an undisclosed sum.

Aloke Dutta, a pharmaceutical sciences professor at WSU and the head of the company’s scientific advisory board, lead the research on the experimental drugs, which are known as “triple reuptake inhibitors,” because they simultaneously target three key neurotransmitters—serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine—in the brain. TRImaran aims to use these drugs to treat neurological diseases from depression to ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder.

This isn’t a new concept; work has been done by a number of scientists and companies on triple reuptake inhibitors for several years now, but with little success. Bristol-Myers Squibb, for instance, scrapped a triple reuptake inhibitor called liafensine in 2013 after it failed a mid-stage trial in depression.

Indeed, Walter Piskorski, TRImaran’s CEO, says that no triple reuptake drug has ever made it to market. “Nobody knows what the magic key is—what the perfect ratios are,” he said, referring to how much of each neurotransmitter a drug should impact.

Piskorski believes the WSU drug candidates might overcome this problem because they can also be “tuned.” Each molecule can be adjusted to change its impact on each type of neurotransmitter, depending on the disorder being treated. He added that the compounds under development have a different chemical structure than triple reuptake drugs Piskorski has looked at in the past.

“Based on what we know from the past and proprietary information we have about the new compounds, [the WSU drugs are] an attractive target,” he said. “It gives us enough hope to dive into the deep end.”

The TRImarin team has plenty of experience developing drugs that treat central nervous system disorders. Piskorski most recently served as chief operations officer at Neurovance, a Cambridge, MA startup developing a triple reuptake inhibitor that treats adult ADHD. (Neurovance began a trio of early clinical studies on the drug in January.) Timothy Hsu, TRImaran’s chief medical officer, also worked for Neurovance. TRImaran’s chief scientific officer, Frank Bymaster, was part of the original team at Eli Lilly that developed the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac). That combined knowledge should help TRImaran going forward.

“We know exactly where to go from here once we get funding,” he said. Despite the rocky history for triple reuptake inhibitors, Piskorski is confident in the compounds licensed from WSU. (When asked to elaborate, he said that was information the company only shares with serious investors who have signed confidentiality agreements.) These drugs address a very complex set of disorders, he said, but he feels the company’s “multiple shots on goal” will help entice investors to take the risk.

“That and $4 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s,” Piskorski joked about his analysis. “It’s not a slam dunk, but [these drugs are] lining up to show really, really good potential.”

Piskorski said the company has been in talks with potential development partners in Big Pharma, but generally venture firms and government grants provide the initial funding for biotech startups, and he believes that will also be the case with TRImaran. Preclinical studies, he said, will start “the moment” TRImaran hits its fundraising goals, which he estimates will take about six months.

TRImaran, whose name is a play on the boats that race in the America’s Cup, will next be in the Great Lakes State in May for the Michigan Growth Capital Symposium. Piskorski hopes that some of the initial discussions he’s had with investors in Michigan and beyond will blossom there.

“If the first conversations were handshakes, we hope the ones in May will turn into hugs,” he said. “The funding dance doesn’t happen quickly.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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