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With New CEO, Seattle’s Faraday Pharma Aims to Exploit Ikaria Roots

Xconomy Seattle — 

[Updated 9/3/15, 11:30 am. See below.] Tiny Faraday Pharmaceuticals of Seattle launched last year to try what its predecessor Ikaria couldn’t do: Turn the cutting-edge research of founder Mark Roth, a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award winner, into a medical product.

Now Faraday, which emerged from stealth and announced a round of funding last year but kept details close to the vest, has a full-time CEO on board, biopharma industry veteran Stephen Hill (pictured), and more than $30 million in Series A commitments from its investors. [Updated with financial details.]

It might sound odd to associate Ikaria with product failure. When it was acquired by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals for $2.3 billion earlier this year, it had a product on the market—a nitric oxide delivery system to treat respiratory failure in newborns. The acquisition price was in addition to the $1.6 billion a private equity firm paid in 2013 for a majority stake.

But that nitric oxide product was developed from a company Ikaria merged with in 2007. After the merger, it kept the Ikaria name but moved to New Jersey. Its ambitions to produce a “hibernation on demand” product, which would slow the metabolism of wounded people or heart attack victims and give doctors extra time to save them, never materialized. Spun out of Roth’s lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the experimental product was shelved.

Now it has resurfaced in a different form, along with a few Ikaria veterans, at Faraday. The startup is working on treatments to reduce the risk of damage from reperfusion, which is the rush of blood back into tissue after an injury or medical procedure.

Hill gave the example of a patient receiving a stent to widen an artery and allow more blood flow after a heart attack. While more blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients, seems like it would be a good thing for weakened heart tissue, it can be overwhelming. The rush might in fact do more damage, even cause death. (This overview in the journal Circulation vividly describes one type of reperfusion injury as heart tissue literally being “stunned”; the injury is the result of a complicated chain of molecular events, including calcium overloading the cells.)

Roth and labmates published a paper last fall describing the use of iodide in the protection against perfusion injury in mouse heart tissue.

It remains to be seen how Roth’s expertise gives Faraday a leg up against competitors that are also working on reperfusion injury treatments. Hill says Faraday is testing its compounds in animal models for about 15 or 20 indications, in several tissue types. (Reperfusion damage can also happen to a transplanted kidney, for instance, kept away from blood for hours, after it’s been connected to its new host and the blood starts flowing to it.)

Hill declined to pinpoint which indication Faraday will pursue. He would only say that clinical trials could start in the “not too distant future.”

Trials, of course, require cash. In July 2014, Faraday announced a Series A financing from Arch Venture Partners, Polaris Partners, Osage University Partners, and WRF Capital. But, unusual for a biotech company, it made no mention of the amount raised at the time. In a regulatory filing later that month, the company said it had sold $3.7 million in equity against a goal of $6.5 million.

Now, more than a year later, Faraday chairman Steve Gillis says that the Series A has grown to more than $30 million, which would be doled out as Faraday hits unspecified milestones. [An earlier version of this story posted before Gillis responded with Series A financing details.]

Gillis and fellow Arch Venture managing director Bob Nelsen are on the Faraday board. In addition to Roth, Gillis, and Nelsen, Faraday’s two other board members are Thomas King, the CEO of Alexza Pharmaceuticals, and Paulina Hill (no relation to Stephen Hill), a principal at Polaris.

Meanwhile, Seattle becomes the latest stop in Stephen Hill’s globetrotting career. He began as a surgeon in Britain’s National Health Service, and went on to run global clinical trials for Roche. He moved to the U.S. to run Boston biotech ArQule (NASDAQ: ARQL), and then the U.S. arm of European drug firm Solvay, based in Atlanta. Before heading to the Pacific Northwest, he ran the North Carolina drug developer Targacept. That stint ended when Targacept, after a string of clinical failures, merged with Bay Area firm Catalyst Biosciences (NASDAQ: CBIO), whose management wanted Targacept’s cash and public listing.

Hill joins a small staff—still single digits, according to Hill—with Ikaria ties. Roth, who in addition to running his Hutch lab holds a University of Washington professorship, is Faraday’s president. Chief scientific officer Chris Toombs used to work there, as did at least two other scientists, including Michael Insko, whose picture is featured on this Faraday webpage.