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DURHAM … Academy Funds president Bradford Walters has taken the helm as acting chief executive officer at Kucera, which is struggling to slash its cash burn rate.

Former CEO Russ Read stepped down voluntarily recently, Walters tells Local Tech Wire. “He saw what was happening with the funding situation and made a sacrifice,” Walters says. “He’s still on the board, still has equity and still a part of this.”

Founded in 2001 and based on research from Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kucera is developing anti-viral and anti-cancer drugs. It also has a technology that could extend the efficacy and patent life of existing drugs when combined to make new compounds with a longer life, reduced side effects, and better penetration of cell membranes.

Kucera’s lead drug, KPC-2, is a promising anti-HIV compound. Another of its compounds showed activity against the deadly pneumonia-like SARS virus earlier this year. The company has patented several novel antiviral and anti-cancer agents. Its technology interferes with the ability of a virus to protect its core structure and the defective viruses can’t reproduce.

Walters says the company, which received NC Biotechnology Center $100,000 research grant for its anti-HIV research this spring, had to “ratchet the burn rate down.” From all sources, the company received a total of about $2 million so far, Walters says.

The company received a good score on its proposal for a $2.5 million Small Business Innovative Research Grant, which it may receive this fall, Walters says. “I think we have enough cash to survive until then.”

Walters says that ideally the company would like to raise $10 million to fully fund its research. “That would carry us through all of our programs. We could get by with less than that to focus on the HIV drug.”

The company is nominally headquartered in Winston-Salem. It now has three employees, down from five, and all in its Durham laboratory, Walters says. Kucera moved its laboratory to Durham last year and maintains only a virtual office in Winston-Salem. “We operate out of the technology transfer office at Wake Forest,” Walters says.

Three of the companies board members are from Winston-Salem and “we have significant investors from there,” Walters says.

Walters joined the Academy Funds in January 2002 after practicing neurosurgery for 14 years. Walters held positions at both the UNC School of Medicine and the WFU School of Medicine. He also holds an MBA from the Kenan-Flagler business school at UNC in addition to his MD from Harvard Medical School.

Academy is one of the major investors in Kucera.

Kucera: www.kucerapharma.com