By Brady Huggett

Renovis Inc., a privately held company focused on filling a gap in brain research and neurology, named its new president and CEO.

Corey Goodman will take the helm beginning Sept. 1 and also join its board. The man who co-founded Exelixis Inc., of South San Francisco, in 1994 saw the current state of the biotechnology industry as an environment where Renovis could flourish.

¿It started with the idea that there was an unmet need for a new generation of biotech companies focused on psychiatric and neurologic disease,¿ Goodman said. ¿The new bottleneck was how to deal with the complexity of the brain.¿ With the explosion of genetic information from the genomics frenzy, the time was right for a company to attack psychiatric and neurologic diseases, Goodman said. That¿s why ¿you¿ll find a number of other biotech companies popping up.¿

Goodman, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Tito Serafini, Edward Penhoet and Lynne Zydowsky founded Renovis in January 2000. Zydowsky, Tessier-Lavigne and Goodman all came from Exelixis, while Serafini was a scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, Goodman said. With seed funding from Penhoet, former CEO and co-founder of Chiron Corp., the company got its start.

The company has raised $16.4 million to date, through two rounds and seed funding, with backing from Venrock Associates, of New York; Alta Partners, of San Francisco; and Skyline Ventures, of Palo Alto, Calif. It focuses on the neuronal cell types and circuits that control particular behaviors or influence specific neurological or psychiatric diseases. The company validates potential drug targets by mapping them to circuits and indications. It then uses functional assessment both in vitro and in vivo to move targets to high-throughput screens for leads and drug discovery.

¿We essentially focus on the mouse as a model,¿ Goodman said. ¿We are using technology that lets us tag individual types of neurons in the mouse brain and light them up and drill down on neurons that matter.¿

All of Renovis¿ work is preclinical, but it has shown that the technology works, Goodman said. Zydowsky, senior vice president, business development and chief operating officer, said Renovis has had ¿a lot of interest¿ from companies in the States, Europe and Japan and has begun ¿multiple discussions¿ with potential collaborators.

Renovis has its own intellectual property ¿ large enough to be called a patent estate ¿ some of which it owns and some it has licensed in, Zydowsky said.

While Renovis will strive to solve the psychiatric and neurological disorders, its flagship work is in spinal cord injury and brain trauma, Goodman said. Renovis has about 40 employees in its 15,000-square-foot facility now, but plans to grow to 50 or 60 by the end of 2002.

As proof that this is a burgeoning field and a prime time for it, Goodman listed Psychiatric Genomics Inc., of Gaithersburg, Md., and Cogent Neuroscience Inc., of Durham, N.C., among others as potential competitors in the field. In an area that Goodman feels is ready to take off, there isn¿t much time to rest.

¿I¿ve been living a double life because there is so much to do,¿ he said.

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