Staff Writer

Viamet Pharmaceuticals Inc. raised $4 million in a Series A financing to support its preclinical development of small molecules targeting various metalloenzymes involved in infectious disease, inflammation and oncology.

Existing investor Intersouth Partners and new investor Hatteras Venture Partners co-led the round. The money should last "a year or so," according to founding investor and board member Garheng Kong, general partner with Intersouth.

Prior to the current round, Viamet subsisted on about $500,000 in seed funding provided by Intersouth, which incubated the company in its Durham, N.C. facilities. The new money will allow Viamet to find its own space and expand its two-person team headed by President and CEO Robert Schotzinger, former CEO of BioStratum Inc.

"We will certainly add some more members to the team," Kong said. Yet he noted that Viamet also will "do quite a bit of outsourcing."

Viamet was founded in the second quarter of 2005 by scientists Holden Thorp, of the University of North Carolina, and Thomas O'Halloran, of Northwestern University. The name Viamet is short for via metals, a reference to the company's focus on metalloenzymes.

About a third of known enzymes have metals associated with their structure or activity, making metalloenzymes a well-known class of drug targets. Lotensin (benazepril HCl, Novartis AG) and other angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors target metalloenzymes, as does Viagra (sildenafil citrate, Pfizer Inc.).

Yet not all metalloenzyme programs have been successful. British Biotech plc, of Wokingham, UK, suffered through several failed clinical trials with the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) inhibitor Marimastat in various types of cancer. Celltech Group plc and several big pharmas also stumbled with MMP inhibitors.

"We're not doing MMPs - that has been a difficult target," Kong said.

But as far as exactly which metalloenzymes it is targeting and how it is inhibiting them, Viamet is keeping mum, at least for the moment. Kong would say only that the company's small-molecule approach is "different" and that the metalloenzymes initially targeted are involved in infectious disease, inflammation and oncology. He added that Viamet will focus on metalloenzyme inhibition, and that the team is "still finalizing" how far from the clinic its product candidates are.

At the University of North Carolina, founder Thorp's research focuses on transition-metal redox chemistry. Specifically, his team has studied the electrochemical properties of nucleic acids catalyzed by transition metal complexes and developed technologies for detecting specific nucleic acid sequences. He also has studied transition-metal mediated binding of serine protease inhibitors and identified imidazole compounds with high affinities for certain proteases in the presence of transition metal ions.

At Northwestern University, founder O'Halloran's research focuses on the regulatory biology and chemistry of transition metal receptors. He recently has focused on new classes of soluble receptors involved with metal trafficking, such as the metallochaperone proteins. He also is researching the development of nanoscale and polymer-based agents for treatment of multiple myeloma.

No Comments