Building on 20 years of interest in migraines, Stephen Peroutka has formed Synergia Pharma Inc., a privately held company in South San Francisco.

Peroutka founded Synergia in January, and in February the company reported securing $2 million in Series A funding through a preferred stock placement with MPM Capital, of Boston.

That funding will help kick-start a clinical development program, expected to last four to five years, to develop therapeutics to prevent or treat migraine headaches.

"Migraines remain very much of a black box," Peroutka told BioWorld Today. "We don't understand what causes people to get migraines."

What Synergia will focus on is tracing the onset of migraines based on what is known in biological pathways to try and determine exactly what causes them, with the help of bioinformatics, he said, noting that "bioinformatics and understanding disease has not been a major focus lately." Already, it is well known that missing a meal can cause a migraine, and Peroutka will be looking at stress as the cause of migraines, whether it be physiological or psychological, such as hormonal changes or changes in altitude.

Peroutka said it's a little like "mental arithmetic" to determine the biological underpinning of stress and what happens to the body chemically when it suffers from stress to the point that migraines are caused. He is hoping to find drugs that can overcome the deleterious effects of the stress that lead to migraines.

"The idea is to test the hypothesis in the clinic as soon as possible," Peroutka said.

Peroutka was president of a company called Spectra Biomedical in the early to mid-1990s that looked at genetic causes of migraines.

"We were na ve," Peroutka said, noting that at the time the consensus was that there was one gene that caused disease. Now, he said, it is known that it can be hundreds of genes that act to cause a disease.

"Everbody keeps hoping to find the answer, and people say it's a thousand-piece puzzle," he said. "And there's not one piece that allows you to figure out a puzzle."

The answer, he said, is not going to come from one piece of information, but from multiple disciplines.

"Every data point is important but less so than the entire thing put together," Peroutka said.

Synergia's path will entail "a pure clinical development approach," he said, meaning no preclinical research and no animal studies.

The plan is to enter Phase I and have that completed, in addition to proof of concept, by year-end 2004. That's also how far the $2 million should carry the company.

Currently, the ownership of the company consists of Peroutka and MPM. There also are no other full-time employees, although there are "multiple consultants" who are already working.

"We're staying, in a sense, virtual," Peroutka said.

In addition to helping found Spectra in 1993, Peroutka is a former vice president of clinical research at Deltagen Inc., former faculty member at the Stanford University School of Medicine, chief of neurology at the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Hospital and director of neuroscience at Genentech Inc.