DURHAM … The scientific team that started Merix Bioscience has created a new company built on a platform of developing blood thinners and other drugs whose effects can be switched off when needed.
The company, named Regado after a word in the artificial language of Esperanto that means “control,” was recently spun out of Duke University Medical Center and has obtained about $150,000 in seed funding from Aurora Funds and Intersouth Partners, both of Durham, and Toronto-based MDS Capital.
Regado is looking to develop drugs that can be regulated to give physicians and surgeons more control over their effects, says co-founder Bruce Sullenger, a biochemist and associate professor of experimental surgery at Duke.
“Often, people have side effects when drugs are administered, so we are developing an on-off switch for drug activity,” Sullenger says. “The off switch would allow a physician to reverse the drug’s effects if something were to go awry.”
One of the first drug classes Regado is researching is anticoagulants, or blood thinners, which are commonly administered during surgery, he says. But their use also carries the risk that a patient could bleed to death on the operating table if a problem arose during surgery.
Physicians on staff with Duke Clinical Research Institute, which conducts clinical trials on experimental drugs and standard of care issues, asked Sullenger and his partners in Regado, Chris Rusconi and Eli Gilboa, for help in solving such a problem, which led them to develop the technology the company hopes to advance. Other classes of drugs the company may study include those dealing with cardiovascular disease.
Sullenger and Gilboa, an immunologist and professor of experimental surgery at Duke, were key members of the team that developed the platform for Merix, which is working on cancer vaccines by loading RNA from tumors into cells that stimulate immune system responses. The company is one of the hottest properties among Southeast biotechnology startups after raising almost $40 million in second-round funding a year ago.
Aurora, Intersouth and MDS all are investors in Merix and apparently are betting that Sullenger and Gilboa can produce another hit. Their seed money is paying to create a business plan for Regado and to negotiate with Duke to license the company’s technology, Sullenger says.
Officials with the two Durham-based venture firms couldn’t be reached for comment.
Like Merix, Regado’s technology is using an RNA-based therapy, Sullenger says. The “off switch” consists of a second drug whose molecules interact with the initial drug, altering the shape of its molecules and stopping its effects on the body.
Research on the technology, which is now in animal studies, is being funded by a National Institutes of Health grant, he says. A paper on the group’s efforts is expected to be published in an issue of the scientific journal Nature later this year, he says.