Rainy weather across the Southeast yesterday didn’t dampen spirits at Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based Norak Biosciences Inc., which closed its second round of venture capital financing, pulling in $13 million.
“Our primary growth strategy is using our own platform technology to create our own drug pipeline,” said Terry Willard, Norak’s vice president. “We are going to be using these dollars to increase the size of our compound library for high-throughput screening.”
New investors for the privately held biotechnology company included Noro-Moseley Partners, of Atlanta, which led the round, New York-based Mitsui & Co. Venture Partners and two passive investors: Alexandria Real Estate Equities, of Pasadena, Calif., and Koch Enterprises, of Evansville, Ind.
Series A investors Intersouth Partners and Aurora Funds, both of Durham, N.C., also participated in the round. The company’s first round, held in the spring of 2000, raised $3.4 million.
Norak said it also would use the funds to buy additional equipment and increase its personnel.
“Until we raised this money, we were limited in scope,” Willard said. “And now that we have it, we can ramp up that program.”
Norak’s Transfluor technology is a G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) drug discovery system designed for screening potential drug candidates against GPCR targets, whether known or orphan. It stems from work done at Duke University Medical Center and licensed by Norak in 1999. The company has since acquired a 350,000-compound library and installed instrumentation for primary and secondary screening. Norak said it plans to screen at least 500,000 of its compounds against a number of GPCR targets in the next year.
“Transfluor is unique in that it is a universal GPCR assay,” Willard said. “All other assays are specific to a given class of GPCRs.”
Willard also cited Transfluor’s desensitization feature as “the most direct and accurate means of identifying activation of a receptor and tracking its signal pathway into a cell.”
The company plans near-term growth and revenue by offering limited access to its technology to the pharmaceutical industry via licensing deals and collaborations.
“We believe we can shave about a year of preclinical development off the process [for partners], and that of course is huge from a standpoint of getting to market faster and having a competitive advantage over everybody else that’s working on the same targets,” Willard said.
A collaborative agreement with Universal Imaging Corp., of Downington, Pa., signed last month, in which the two companies are combining their screening technologies, is designed to enable biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies involved in drug discovery to study GPCRs in high-content modes.
Successful secondary screens can cut the time required to market, Willard said.
“It’s a very broad platform technology in the class of receptors, GPCRs, that have historically been the most productive for drug discovery,” Willard said. “Sixty percent of all drugs on the market today worldwide are regulated by GPCRs, so it’s the single most productive class of drug targets.”
Long-term growth plans for Norak include using its compound libraries and high-throughput screening instrumentation to discover certain GPCR-based drugs for its own pipeline.