It's only been around for about a year, but Tobira Therapeutics is acting like it wants to stay. On Wednesday the private start-up licensed its first two products, and Thursday it completed a $31 million series A financing and named a president and CEO.
The Princeton, N.J.-based company kicked things off Wednesday with the announcement that it had obtained exclusive worldwide rights to develop, manufacture and commercialize two anti-HIV compounds from Takeda Pharmaceutical Co., of Osaka, Japan. The products, TAK-652 and TAK-220, are currently in Phase I development in the U.S. and Europe.
Both products are antagonists that can be administered orally and bind to CCR5 receptors to interfere with the entry of the HIV-1 virus into macrophages and activated T-cells by inhibiting fusion between viral and cellular membranes. That mechanism of action is different from other drugs used to treat HIV infection such as nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors and protease inhibitors. Tobira immediately labeled TAK-652 as its lead candidate, saying it has the potential for becoming a "best in class" drug.
"Drugs that target the CCR-5 receptor have the potential to dramatically augment the treatment armamentarium for HIV/AIDS, and it is very important that TAK-652, as a potential best-in-class CCR-5 blocker, is developed as quickly as possible for the benefit of patients with HIV infection," Eckard Weber, company founder and board chairman, said in a news release. Weber also is a partner with Domain Associates, which co-led the venture along with Frazier Healthcare Ventures. Montreux Equity Partners and Canaan Partners also participated.
The company said it expects the funding will take TAK-652 through Phase II work, and also allow development of TAK-220 as a backup compound.
The linage of the compounds goes back into the 1990s when Takeda developed TAK-779 as the first small-molecule CCR5 antagonist. Researchers at the time described it as a "highly potent and selective inhibitor of HIV-1 replication," but development ended because of its poor oral bioavailability. In 2003 the company presented TAK-220, an orally bioavailable CCR5 antagonist with potent anti-HIV-1 activity. It was described as a novel series of compounds with a chemical structure totally different from TAK-779. Further development along those lines resulted in TAK-652.
In addition to the financing, the company named James Sapirstein as CEO and president. He formerly was executive vice president of metabolic and endocrinology at Serono Inc. He previously held positions at Gilead Sciences, Bristol-Myers Squibb, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. and Eli Lilly and Co.
In other financing news:
• Celator Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Princeton, N.J., closed a $10 million private equity financing round, representing a follow-on investment from principal investors Domain Associates LLC, Quaker BioVentures, TL Ventures, Ventures West Management Inc., GrowthWorks Capital Ltd., the Business Development Bank of Canada and Hearthstone Investment Ltd. Celator closed a $40 million Series B round in May 2005. The recent financing positions the company to advance a pipeline of products based on its CombiPlex technology platform, which is designed to identify and deliver the precise ration of drugs that will optimize antitumor activity in combination therapy to treat different types of cancer. (See BioWorld Today, May 4, 2005.)
• Edison Pharmaceuticals Inc., of San Jose, Calif., closed a $4.25M Series B preferred stock offering. The financing was led by Carl Berg, of Berg & Berg Enterprises LLC. New investors included John W. Marriott III, president and CEO of JWM LP, and JWM Family Enterprises. Terms of the financing were not disclosed. Edison's initial clinical focus is inherited mitochondrial disease, and the funds will be used to move three preclinical compounds into development. Edison anticipates, through a recent partnership with Penwest Pharmaceuticals, of Danbury, Conn., that Penwest will advance its first drug candidate, EPI-A0001, into clinical development in early 2008. (See BioWorld Today, July 19, 2007.) Additional late-stage preclinical compounds are anticipated to enter development for orphan inherited mitochondrial diseases in 2008 and 2009.