Some of the best connected players in the San Diego hub organize launch round for another biotech with an eye on trial data
Mike Grey and his network of San Diego-based biotech execs are formally notching a new startup debut today.
The company is Reneo Pharmaceuticals, which drew a syndicate together around CEO Niall O’Donnell with $50 million to support their ongoing work on new treatments for genetic mitochondrial diseases.
Today marks their coming out party for the company, but the 12-member team at Reneo — 7 in the UK and 5 in San Diego — have been hard at it for more than 2 years. They’ve already steered their way to 2 clinical trials, focusing on REN001, a PPAR-delta agonist being used to treat genetically defined rare mitochondrial diseases such as fatty acid oxidation disorders — FAOD — and primary mitochondrial myopathies.
O’Donnell is a former Lumena exec who’s worked with ex-Lumena CEO Mike Grey for years. Shire stepped in to buy the company — where O’Donnell was interim CMO — and their lead drug back in 2014. But after the first round of trials at Shire failed, Grey formed a new company called Mirum Pharmaceuticals to get back the rights and revive work on the drug.
And that’s not all Grey, the executive chairman at Reneo, has done. He also helped launch Amplyx, where he was the founding CEO before handing the reins to longtime colleague Ciara Kennedy, another Lumena alum. Now he’s executive chairman at Amplyx as well.
Together, the group involves some of the best-connected scientists and entrepreneurs in the San Diego hub, with fingers in many startup pies. O’Donnell is on the board at Amplyx and is managing director at RiverVest Venture Partners. And the well-knit bunch of ex-Lumena execs continue to work on a variety of projects together with funding from some venture allies.
New Enterprise Associates is back as the lead investor for Reneo, alongside Lundbeckfonden Ventures, Pappas Capital — where Grey is a venture partner — and not surprisingly RiverVest Venture Partners.
They’re giving O’Donnell enough money to see through his proof-of-concept work in the clinic and the end of next year, setting up a follow-up shot at pivotal rare disease work if everything pans out.
That will depend largely on whether they chose the right PPAR agonist, which the CEO notes came from vTv Therapeutics. Mitochondria are often referred to as the body’s powerhouses, which store and release the energy needed to function. When it goes awry, the consequences can be devastating.
Their drug is designed to increase “fatty acid metabolism,” says the CEO, “which has direct implications for fatty acid oxidation disorders. In addition, an increase in fatty acid metabolism has the potential to increase the amount of ATP within cells, which could, in turn, improve symptoms for patients afflicted with mitochondrial myopathies.”
O’Donnell tells me he’s happy to retain all the optionality you’d expect in a venture-backed company. There are resources to go it alone, raising more money, maybe go public or work a deal with the asset. And with his connections, these are all real possibilities.