Start-up Sonexa Therapeutics Inc. raised $30 million in a Series A financing to in-license and fund clinical trials with a new small molecule for Alzheimer's disease.
Domain Associates LLC, Scale Venture Partners and Alta Partners led the financing, which also included investments by AgeChem Venture Fund LP and Mitsubishi International Corp.'s venture arm, MC Life Science Ventures.
Domain partner and serial entrepreneur Eckard Weber will serve as Sonexa's founding CEO and chairman of the board of directors.
Weber, who has acted as founding CEO for more than a dozen biotechs, told BioWorld Today that Domain "had been looking to make a move in Alzheimer's for a long time." His firm incorporated Sonexa around the middle of last year and provided seed funding.
San Diego-based Sonexa licensed exclusive worldwide rights to its Alzheimer's drug, outside of Japan and certain Asian countries, from a Japanese pharmaceutical company. Weber declined to provide additional details about the deal other than to say the drug is a new chemical entity that hasn't been approved or developed for other indications. He also remained mum about the mechanism, revealing only that the drug is orally bioavailable and "has the potential to both improve symptoms and modify the disease course."
Alzheimer's disease affects more than 26 million people worldwide, creating a $4 billion market. Currently available drugs - Aricept (donepezil, Pfizer Inc.), Exelon (rivastigmine, Novartis AG), Cognex (tacrine, First Horizon Pharmaceutical Corp.), Reminyl (galantamine, Shire Pharmaceuticals Group plc) and Namenda (memantine, Forest Laboratories Inc.) - boost memory and cognition but cannot slow the course of the disease.
Finding a disease-modifying agent for Alzheimer's is a goal shared by many biotechs. Several are trying to decrease levels of the peptide amyloid beta, which forms the hallmark Alzheimer's plaques. Candidates include Myriad Genetics Inc.'s Flurizan (tarenflurbil), which is expected to deliver Phase III data in June, and the monoclonal antibody bapineuzumab (Elan Corp. plc and Wyeth), also in Phase III. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 13, 2005, and May 22, 2007.)
But targeting amyloid beta isn't the only approach to Alzheimer's. Accera Inc.'s Phase II drug Ketasyn (AC-1202) targets defects in glucose utilization and lipid metabolism, Pipex Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s Phase II drug Coprexa (tetrathiomolybdate) seeks to lower copper levels, and many companies are working on gamma secretase inhibitors.
Earlier this week, Medivation Inc. announced plans to move into Phase III for Alzheimer's with Dimebon (dimebolin), an oral, small molecule believed to bind to both cholinesterase and the NMDA receptor. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 29, 2008.)
Sonexa has filed an investigational new drug application for its Alzheimer's drug and plans to begin U.S. clinical trials in February. Most of its Series A funding will support those trials, although Weber said some went to licensing fees associated with acquiring the drug.
For now, Sonexa is what Weber calls "semi-virtual," operating with a 10- to 15-person team comprised of full-time employees and consultants. Joining Weber at the helm is Sonexa's president and chief medical officer, Sharon Rogers, who previously worked on the development and registration of Aricept.
Members of the board of directors, in addition to Weber, include Domain Principal Kim Puloma Kamdar, Scale Managing Director Lou Bock and Alta Principal Robert Alexander.
In other financing news:
• Cardium Therapeutics, of San Diego, has entered into a definitive purchase agreement for an institutional sale of shares of common stock and warrants in a registered direct offering. At closing, the transaction will bring in gross proceeds of approximately $5.3 million. Proceeds will be used for product development and general corporate purposes. Empire Asset Management Company acted as the sole placement agent for the transaction.
• Theratechnologies Inc., of Montreal, has entered into an underwriting agreement with BMO Capital Markets, which will net C$29.8 million for continued development and commercialization of tesamorelin, a hormone-therapy for HIV-associated lipodystrophy. Tesamorelin currently is in a Phase III study. Data published in the Dec. 6, 2007, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine showed its potential to improve excess visceral fat in HIV-infected patients with the metabolic disorder. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 7, 2007.) Under the terms of the agreement, BMO Capital Markets will buy 3.5 million common shares and sell them to the public at C$8.50 per share. In addition, the firm has an overallotment option to purchase an additional 350,000 common shares. If that option is exercised, Theratechnologies could pad its coffers by $32.7 million. The deal is expected to close Feb. 13.