Formed last year to use particle technologies licensed from Nektar Therapeutics Inc. for respiratory drug development, start-up Pearl Therapeutics Inc. pulled in $15.5 million in its first venture-backed financing round.

New Leaf Ventures, of Menlo Park, Calif., and Clarus Ventures, of Cambridge, Mass., co-led the round, with participation from 5AM Ventures, also of Menlo Park.

"We're very happy" with that investor base, said President Adrian Smith, who co-founded Pearl with Sarvajna Dwivedi, executive vice president of research and development. Both Smith and Dwivedi previously worked for San Carlos-based Nektar - Smith most recently served as vice president of corporate development over the firm's pulmonary division and Dwivedi served as director of product development. That made them familiar with Nektar's suite of particle technologies, which gained validation in early 2006 with the approval of the first inhaled insulin product, Exubera, in partnership with New York-based Pfizer Inc.

But, like a lot of drug development technologies, the particle platform has broad potential applications, and some of those applications are outside of Nektar's strategic focus. So Smith and Dwivedi established Pearl, which began operations by licensing rights to certain of Nektar's particle technologies, with specific aims to develop products for chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

Though the Redwood City, Calif.-based firm is holding its cards close to the vest for now, "for competitive reasons," Smith told BioWorld Today, it plans to move "very quickly to develop products and move the company forward."

Its first funding round is expected to allow Pearl to combine the particle technologies with its expertise in drug delivery, formulation and development. The company has not disclosed how long the recent financing is expected to support operations.

The firm's goal is to create products that are more effective than existing drugs and conventional pulmonary drug delivery systems, Smith said. He added that the name "Pearl" is intended to reflect both simplicity and beauty. "The concept here is that we can take the particle technology and create something beautiful and something that can help patients."

In connection with the financing, Pearl named New Leaf's Kathleen LaPorte, Clarus' Nicholas Simon, of Clarus and 5AM's James Young to its board. Also joining the board is Nevan Elam, who currently heads up Nektar's pulmonary business unit.

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