Sometime after the Irish drug giant Shire acquired San Diego-based Lumena Pharmaceuticals last year, Lumena CEO Mike Grey went back to work on a new startup—but he wouldn’t say too much about what he was working on.
He is now. Grey and a couple of other key executives from Lumena have joined Amplyx Pharmaceuticals, one of those frugal drug discovery companies that seem to thrive in San Diego. But Amplyx has taken a recent turn that is taking the little company to a whole new level.
Today Amplyx says it has closed on $40.5 million in Series B financing, and plans to use the capital to advance development of a new anti-fungal compound for treating life-threatening fungal infections. St. Louis, MO-based RiverVest Venture Partners led the round, which included investments by New Enterprise Associates, BioMed Ventures (the venture arm of San Diego’s BioMed Realty Trust), and individual investors.
Amplyx was founded in 2006, and has managed to continue its small-molecule R&D, which is focused on finding ways to improve existing cancer and anti-viral drugs, by securing angel funding and at least $7.7 million in NIH Small Business Innovation Research grants.
Amplyx also was among the first 18 startups to get low-cost lab space at San Diego’s Janssen Labs, the “no strings attached” innovation center operating under the corporate umbrella of Johnson & Johnson.
Grey said yesterday he began helping Amplyx co-founder and CSO Mitchell Mutz about a year ago as an informal adviser. Amplyx later in-licensed a promising drug compound for treating fungal infections from an undisclosed pharmaceutical company.
It was an unusual move, Grey said, and outside the company’s usual focus on improving existing drugs. For one thing, the compound Amplyx calls APX001 works in a new way and represents a new class of anti-fungal drugs—and the FDA hasn’t approved a new class of anti-fungal agents since 2001.
Grey joined Amplyx as CEO, along with Ciara Kennedy, who led the work on cholestatic liver disease at Shire and Lumena (and is now COO at Amplyx), and Susan Dube, who was Lumena’s vice president of corporate development (and will head business development and administration for Amplyx).
“Amplyx was a research enterprise, and they’re doing good work,” Grey said. “But they needed some [drug] development expertise.”
With the venture funding announced today, Grey said he expects Amplyx to grow from its current headcount of 14 employees to 20 or more in the next six months.
By next year, Amplyx plans to initiate an early stage trial of APX001. The company says it is developing both intravenous and oral versions of the drug, and plans to evaluate the safety and tolerability of both formulations.
From there, Amplyx plans to develop a series of mid-stage trial programs for testing APX001 against candidiasis, invasive aspergillosis, and certain rare molds.