One of the positive side effects of consolidation is that mergers and acquisitions often free senior level executives to found the next generation of biotech start-ups. Much of San Diego's biotech industry can trace its roots back to the entrepreneurs who emerged after Eli Lilly and Co. absorbed Hybritech Inc.
So when Pfizer Inc. acquired Vicuron Pharmaceuticals Inc. for $1.9 billion in mid-2005, it was only a matter of time before a new anti-infective play like Union City, Calif.-based MicuRx Pharmaceuticals Inc. rose from the ashes. (See BioWorld Today, June 17, 2005.)
MicuRx was founded by Vicuron's former senior vice president of research, Zhengyu Yuan, and former vice president of chemistry, Mike Gordeev. The two had worked with Vicuron's team on products such as the once-daily antifungal anidulafungin, now marketed by Pfizer as Eraxis, and the Gram-positive anti-infective dalbavancin, which is in registration for skin and skin structure infections. After Pfizer's takeover, the two scientists spent about a year and a half putting together ideas about "how to create best-in-class anti-infectives," before founding their company, Gordeev said.
The name MicuRx derives from the combination of MICU - short for medical intensive care unit - and Rx. The idea was that "by using Rx they will avoid MICU," Gordeev explained.
The company's business strategy is two-fold: Modify the chemical structures of existing drugs to create new and improved chemical entities, and license later-stage novel clinical candidates for development.
On the discovery side, Gordeev declined to specify exactly which existing anti-infectives MicuRx is improving. He said the company will begin with antifungals and antibacterials such as protein synthesis inhibitors, a broad class of antibiotics including streptomycin, tetracycline, erythromycin and many others. He also said MicuRx is not limited to working with off-patent drugs, yet he doesn't "foresee any need" to license the rights to proprietary drugs because the modifications made will provide a "strong IP position."
As to what those modifications are, Gordeev said only that MicuRx will use "advances in structural biology" and modify certain structures to improve the antibacterial spectrum, improve resistance profiles, decrease side effects and/or allow less-frequent dosing.
"We have several unique approaches applicable to each drug class," Gordeev said. "We are not putting all the eggs in one basket."
MicuRx's discovery pipeline includes several compounds, the first of which is projected to enter clinical trials in two to three years.
While the discovery work chugs along, MicuRx also is talking to companies around the world regarding opportunities to in-license later stage anti-infective assets for development and commercialization in the North American and Asian markets.
The discovery and development work is being supported by a $10 million Series A financing MicuRx closed last month. Gordeev said the money should carry the company to the next value inflection point: the identification of clinical development candidates.
The Series A was financed entirely by Morningside Group, a Hong Kong-based private equity and venture capital investment firm. Gordeev said MicuRx was attracted to Morningside by the firm's infrastructure in China and strong presence in the U.S. and Europe. Recognizing that many pharmaceutical companies are increasing their footprint in China, MicuRx decided to set up operations both stateside and in Shanghai.
"The innovation and technology here [in the U.S.] is top-notch, state of the art," Gordeev said, but "China has a strong scientific base for drug discovery research."