Avalon Ventures today announced the launch of two new companies formed through its collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to fund and launch up to 10 early-stage life science companies. Silarus Therapeutics, Inc. and Thyritope Biosciences, Inc. each will receive up to $10 million in Series A financing and R&D support from Avalon Ventures and GSK. Both companies will be located at COI Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, the community of innovation established by Avalon Ventures to provide operational support, a fully equipped R&D facility and an experienced leadership team to its life science portfolio companies.
“Our collaboration with GSK represents a new model for driving early-stage drug discovery,” said Jay Lichter, Ph.D., managing director of Avalon Ventures. “By combining the nimble start-up mentality of Avalon with the unmatched R&D expertise and resources of a global pharmaceutical giant like GSK, in less than 18 months we have launched three new companies in diverse therapeutic areas and completed our first compound screen for drug candidate identification in a robust collaboration with GSK. This collaboration has exceeded my expectations in terms of what we’ve been able to accomplish on such a short timescale.” The collaboration between Avalon Ventures and GSK was established in April 2013 and will provide up to $495 million to fund a total of 10 new companies through preclinical proof of concept. The first company launched through the collaboration, Sitari Pharmaceuticals, established in November 2013, is targeting the Transglutaminase 2 (TG2) pathway for the development of treatments for multiple disease indications, with an initial focus in celiac disease.
“This unique model of bringing venture capital together with academia and big pharma is proving to be a powerful vehicle that is working just as we had hoped, bridging the gap between excellent academic science and the transformational development of medicines that GSK can provide,” said Lon Cardon, Senior Vice President, Alternative Discovery & Development at GSK. “From conception of the idea to three new companies in less than 18 months is an unprecedented pace for us and we are achieving our goal of capitalizing on exciting science and at the same time increasing efficiency in drug discovery, which ultimately will benefit patients.” Silarus Therapeutics is developing therapeutics targeting erythroferrone for the treatment of iron deficiency and iron overload disorders. Erythroferrone is a recently-discovered hormone that regulates the iron supply for red blood cell production. Iron deficiency, also known as anemia, is a condition in which blood does not contain the normal amount of red blood cells or lacks the proper amount of hemoglobin. This, in turn, lowers the amount of oxygen-rich blood in circulation, causing shortness of breath, dizziness or headaches. Iron overload is a condition in which too much iron builds up in the body, causing organ poisoning or failure. Silarus was founded based on intellectual property in-licensed from the University of California, Los Angeles, that was discovered by investigators Tomas Ganz, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Elizabeta Nemeth, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care, both of the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
Thyritope Biosciences is developing therapeutics that target thyroid stimulating auto-antibodies, which are the causative drivers of Graves’ hyperthyroidism and Graves’ orbitopathy. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by antibodies that over-stimulate the thyroid, causing excessive thyroid hormone production. The same antibodies stimulate the tissue around the eyes, resulting in an increase of orbital fat and extra-ocular muscle volume which causes the bulging of the eyes characteristic of Graves’ orbitopathy. While there are existing treatments to manage Graves’ hyperthyroidism, these treatments do not address the underlying cause of the disease. There is currently no approved treatment for Graves’ orbitopathy. Thyritope was founded based on molecular evolution technology developed by Patrick Daugherty, Ph.D., Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Biomolecular Science and Engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara and commercialized by Serimmune, Inc.
Based on the terms of the Avalon-GSK collaboration established in April 2013, Avalon will provide Silarus and Thyritope with executive leadership and operational management consistent with its current portfolio strategy. GSK has the option to acquire each of the companies upon the identification of a clinical candidate. Should GSK elect not to exercise this option on any of the companies, ownership of those companies will remain with Avalon, and Avalon will be free to enter into other strategic transactions.