Jenken Biosciences, a startup pharmaceutical firm, has filed its first investigational new drug (IND) application with the Food and Drug Administration and also landed an investor through a services agreement with Cato Research and Cato BioVentures.
The two milestones are part of Jenken’s moves to land $6.5 million in first-round venture capital funding, which Chief Executive Officer Barry Buzogany has been on the road in recent months trying to raise.
The company’s emphasis at the moment is on a compound known as JKB-122, which Jenken believes will prove to be an effective treatment or prevention of liver damage associated with Hepatitis C and other diseases also associated with inflammation of the liver, kidney and lungs.
“It’s a potential blockbuster,” said Buzogany, a former chief operating officer with RTP-based Icoria who joined Jenken earlier this year. Jenken sees the potential market for JKB-122 and other compounds it is pursuing as being worth more than $10 billion a year.
“We filed an IND two weeks ago for JKB-122,” he added.
JKB-122 is a repurposed drug, or one that the firm with FDA approval will test for a new use. Jenken plans to repurpose other drugs as well.
“Because it is a repurposed drug with a proven safety profile for another use means we really can accelerate through the approval process for a new use,” Buzogany said.
The company is staying tight-lipped about JKB’s current use due to intellectual property concerns,. “When the IND is approved by the FDA, we might be able to talk more about what the active ingredient is,” Buzogany added.
Jenken, which is the translation for “prosperity” in Chinese according to Buzogany, currently has two full-time employees – Buzogany and founder Edwin Wu. The firm also has a group of consultants and advisors, including other former Icoria officers.
Wu is one of the inventors of the JKB-122 compound. He formed Jenken in 2003, and operations began in 2004.
To this point, the company has been funded by its founder, friends of family and from an upfront licensing fee paid to Jenken by a Taiwanese drug company last year for rights to JKB-122 in some Asian markets.
Cato and Cato BioVentures will provide drug development services to Jenken with a value of up to $2 million.
"Cato BioVentures and Cato Research are committed to working with early-stage companies like Jenken,” said Shawn Singh, managing principal for Cato BioVentures, in a statement. “When we partner early, as we have here, we can make a positive difference in the overall development of promising drug candidates like Jenken’s JKB-122, a compound with exciting potential to impact the treatment of hepatitis C-related inflammatory liver disease.”
In exchange, Cato and Cato BioVentures will receive warrants for stock in Jenken as well as some cash.
“The early level of services is for strategic consulting, and we certainly can use someone with the reputation of Cato,” Buzogany said. “It’s advantageous for us whereby we gain needed services in exchange for warrants.”
Jenken also hopes to leverage the Cato investment to secure a loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
Buzogany, who has more than 25 years of experience in the life science business, is optimistic that he will secure the Series A venture money soon. “Job No. 1 for me is to secure the Series A funding so we can go to clinical trials,” he said.
Not only has Jenken filed the NDA, but it also has two other compounds waiting further development, and he has the help of other former Icoria executives.
“I’m so pleased with our Icoria connections, and I hope potential investors find that attractive,” he said. “We have a track record of having worked successfully together.”
Buzogany left Icoria after the company, which was once known as Paradigm genetics, was sold to Clinical Data, Inc. He worked at Icoria for more than three years.
Other former Icoria executives advising Jenken are Peter Johnson as operations advisor and Phil Alfano as financial advisor. Preclinical research advisor is Philip Morgan, a former head of molecular pharmacology at GlaxoSmithKline.
Wu has worked more than 20 years in drug research and development, including management positions at two pharmaceutical firms. He is the inventor of an anti-hypertensive drug that is undergoing clinical trials. Wu also is a co-inventor of potential treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, asthma and cognition enhancement.