Mike Narachi is back at the helm of a startup biotech. And once again he’s taking on a big target market — with the help of a venture syndicate that has attracted some of the top corporate investors in the industry.
Narachi, you may recall, steered Orexigen through some huge development challenges to join a group of new weight loss drugs that debuted on the market. He survived the development risk and an initial FDA rejection, won a closely-watched approval and soldiered on to commercialization. And that’s where he and the team were decisively defeated — along with the others that tried and failed to find a niche for themselves.
Now that Orexigen has been sold for parts, the experienced biotech vet has jumped back into the game with a $19 million launch round for South San Francisco-based Coda Biotherapeutics.
At Coda, the small team — less than 10 staffers — is working on a new approach that involves gene therapy. They’re engineering a neurotransmitter receptor with plans to deliver it in a gene via a viral vector delivery vehicle targeted at errant neurons. Correcting those neurons should be enough to address chronic neuropathic pain — provided they can be properly modulated by a drug that can be used to activate or deactivate the gene therapy.
The science comes out of the lab of Joe Glorioso, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
That’s a simple plan to explain, but seems devilishly complicated to deliver for the 19 million Americans who suffer from the condition.
“The first aim is build a platform approach to diseases not addressed by current technology,” Narachi tells me. The $19 million, he says, should get them a candidate sometime next year, with an aim to be in the clinic in 2021. And that team of his will double under the A round.
“I think we’re focused on building this platform and then leveraging against clinical indications where gene therapy is inadequate,” he adds. “The first aim is build a platform approach diseases not addressed by current technology.”
So what did he learn from Orexigen that can help him now?
Patient engagement, he replies. Through it all, the work was about patient recruitment, clinical trials and then commercialization, scrambling to build an online sales channel. It’s all valuable experience, he says, for what lies ahead.
He has some prominent supporters for this next stage of his career.
Lead investors MPM Capital and Versant Ventures were joined in the round by Astellas Venture Management and Novartis.
Image: Mike Narachi. CALIFORNIAN HEALTHCARE INSTITUTE
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