Richard Kouri practices what he teaches. The entrepreneur-in-residence at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and chief executive officer of UNC-spinout Ercole Biotech is on his seventh startup in the industry.

Kouri, a founder and CEO of Ercole, says the company expects to close a seed round of $500,000 in six weeks and will seek a larger first round from a venture firm before the end of summer.

Based on research by UNC pharmacology professor Dr. Ryszard Kole, Ercole is developing new RNA-directed drug therapies.

Kouri tells Local Tech Wire, “Most of what creates genetic diversity is not at the DNA level, but at the RNA level.”

DNA makes messenger RNA (MRNA) that goes into a “maturation factory” where it is cut up and re-spliced according to the type of gene product it finally makes. The final gene product expressed depends on the body tissue where the RNA enters the maturation process. That means genes (DNA) all have from three to 15 different products each.

Those facts mean that drug discovery companies have to “figure out another level of complexity,” Kouri says. “They have to make sure they not only focus on the right gene, but also on the right gene product. That’s where we can help.

“We have the ability to control or regulate which variant is expressed at a given time.”

The company hopes to go into drug development, both by itself and with partners, initially seeking treatments for cystic fibrosis and prostate cancer, among others.

“Ercole plans to develop multiple corporate partnerships to generate income and research funding,” says Marc Sedam, associate director of UNC’s office of technology development.

“The university negotiated a licensing deal to match that revenue model, rather than tying its income to specific product sales.”

Kouri, who came to the Triangle to join Paradigm Genetics three and half years ago, says he has helped biotech companies raise $200 million in public and private financing during his career.

Launching companies course led to Ercole

Kouri, 58, is one of a business school team that teaches Kenan-Flager courses on “Entrepreneurship in Biotech” and “Launching a Company.”

“We get flow there,” Kouri says. “The launching companies course finds early technologies, usually at UNC, and wraps a business strategy around it. Ercole came out of last year’s course. This year’s course is evaluating eight new ideas.

“I am excited that we will have the opportunity to put into practice some of the premises that we have been teaching at Kenan-Flagler. Three of the founders have links to the business school – Dr. Jorn Gorlach, Ted Bebenek and myself,” says Kouri.

Kouri also heads the biotechnology incubator/accelerator SyneCor, LLP, a $12 million venture fund based in the Research Triangle. SyneCor, which also has an office in Palo Alto, Calif., is incubating two companies now, one with a treatment for obesity and another with a heart-valve repair treatment.

“We’re focused on seed rounds,” Kouri says.