Ansata Therapeutics Inc., having effectively raised $5 million in its Series A round last year but receiving only half of it, pulled in the rest by hitting its first milestone.
The La Jolla, Calif.-based company - founded at the time of the Series A in May - was running on the $2.5 million it got then, but needed to validate its technology before it could bank the second tranche.
"We needed to meet a milestone of an in vivo proof of concept of a [protein transduction domain] delivery cancer therapeutic," said Dee Conger, Ansata's CEO. "We'll use the funds basically to continue the research we've been doing since last year."
About to have its first birthday, Ansata was built on technology from the University of Pittsburgh and Washington University in St. Louis. Its funding up to this point has come from Avalon Ventures and Domain Associates, which has made Conger's job that much easier through the avoidance of the fund-raising trail.
"[Ansata] is unique, because this is a Kevin Kinsella put-together company," Conger told BioWorld Today. "I was recruited to the company after [the round] was put together, It was almost incubated by the venture capitalists."
Kinsella founded Avalon Ventures in 1983 and has had a hand in the development of numerous biotechnology names, including Aurora Biosciences Corp., Neurocrine Biosciences Inc., Onyx Pharmaceuticals Inc., Impath Laboratories, Sequana Therapeutics Inc., Microcide Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Pharmacopeia Inc. Kinsella serves as Ansata's chairman.
At about 15 employees now, including 13 scientists, Ansata has found its "sweet spot" as far as size, Conger said.
"We have the initial team to get us in the clinic," he said. "We won't grow until we get ready to file an [investigational new drug application]."
The company has proprietary versions of protein transduction domains (PTDs), technology that allows intracellular delivery of genetically validated therapeutics in vivo. The company is focused on neurodegenerative disease and cancer. PTD-mediated delivery of therapeutic peptides and proteins has been achieved in several animal models, Ansata said, ranging from systemic delivery of anti-apoptotic proteins to ischemic neurons in the central nervous system to local delivery of cytotoxic peptides to solid tumors. While all the company's work is still preclinical, the clinic is firmly a goal.
"We have some programs that look very promising," Conger said. "If we make it to the clinic in the next two years, we'd be very pleased."
Ansata doesn't anticipate searching for its Series B round until the end of 2004. Looking ahead, similar to other companies, it would prefer to keep its products to commercialization, but Conger knows, in reality, he might not have that choice.
"We'd like to take [products] all the way ourselves, but the current climate will mandate that we do some deals," he said. "It will all be dependent on the kinds of deals we can cut and the availability of capital in the market."
Ansata has collaborations with some voluntary health organizations, but no corporate partners yet. Conger said he expects further technology development in the next year, to "more concretely define" the pharmacokinetics and other properties of its products. Along with "fleshing out the technology," Conger listed securing a collaboration and getting a product to the IND stage as a "triad of things" Ansata needs to accomplish in the future. But with the hurdle cleared for its second half of the Series A, Ansata is seeking partners and ready to make some noise.
"We have been under the covers for the first year we've been going," Conger said. "But now, since meeting the milestone, we've come out and started telling our story - this is the first press we've done. We are getting a package ready to go out and seek partners and we will be wrapping up that effort."