MitoKor Inc., a privately held San Diego start-up company, raised$10.6 million in venture capital financing to support drug anddiagnostic development programs based on the role of mitochondrialDNA mutations in various disorders, including Alzheimer's andParkinson's diseases.

MitoKor, founded in 1992, recently changed its name from AppliedGenetics Inc. CEO Robert Davis said the company, which has 20employees, raised a total of $15.3 million in the past four years.

The current round of financing, which involved $7.1 million in cashand conversion of a $3.5 million bridge loan, was led by AltaPartners, a San Francisco venture capital firm. Other investorsinclude Soffinova, of San Francisco, Sorrento Ventures, of SanDiego, and Eldorado Ventures, of Menlo Park, Calif.

Davis said MitoKor has enough funds to support operations for atleast two years.

The company's research, he said, is based on discovering geneticmutations in mitochondrial DNA, which exist outside the nucleus ofcells in the cytoplasm and generate life-sustaining energy. Defects inmitochondrial DNA can lead to cell death and tissue damage.Problems associated with the mutations are more pronounced inslow-dividing or non-dividing cells, such as neurons.

Cells can contain many mitochondria, Davis said, and up to athousand copies of each gene, some of which may be normal andothers mutated. When all copies of a mitochondrial gene aredefective, the resulting disease may manifest itself early in life.However, in late-onset diseases, such as some forms of Alzheimer's,the disorder may not surface until the mixture of normal and mutatedcopies of mitochondrial genes shifts in favor of the latter. The ratiochanges by increases in replication of the mutations and damage tonormal genes.

Davis said after genetic mutations in mitochondria are linked to adisease state the company creates a diagnostic and prepares cellularmodels containing the defective DNA for drug screening.

MitoKor's most advanced program targets Alzheimer's disease. Mostscientists agree the disorder is linked to oxidative damage to neurons.Where theories diverge, Davis said, is pinpointing how the damagewas caused. MitoKor, he added, focuses on mutations inmitochondrial DNA as the culprits.

The company expects to begin providing laboratory testing next yearfor sporadic Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of thedisorder, with a blood-based assay. The test would detectmitochondrial mutations believed to be associated with about 70percent of Alzheimer's patients.

The company's drug development is focused on discovering smallmolecules to offset the mitochondrial mutations. Davis said itsresearchers already have identified potential compounds forAlzheimer's.

MitoKor's other programs target Parkinson's disease, diabetesmellitus, and schizophrenia. In each disease, the company hasdeveloped cellular models exhibiting the suspected mitochondrialDNA mutations. n

-- Charles Craig

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.