Drug discovery startup NovaTarg is ramping up preclinical research in preparation of an expected investigational new drug application filing for the company’s first drug candidate — a new hepatitis C treatment .

The Research Triangle Park-based company now has a $30,000 loan from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to help its efforts. The Biotech Center’s company inception loans are intended to help biotech companies bridge the early stage funding gap that many life science startups face. The program supports business development activities and does not fund scientific or technical development work. The loan positions NovaTarg to raise additional outside funding to support advancement of its therapies into clinical trials.

“NovaTarg is making great strides toward the identification of our first drug candidate for the treatment of hepatitis C and other liver-associated diseases,” company founder and CEO Kenneth Batchelor said in a statement. “We look forward to using the (company inception loan) to fund key aspects of this discovery effort.”

NovaTarg’s research focuses on activating AMPK, an enzyme that regulates how cells use energy. The company says that its research with AMPK has applications in addressing liver diseases, diabetes and cancer.

NovaTarg’s drug pipeline plans call for work on preclinical safety, pharmacokinetics and formulation in 2012, leading up to an IND filing. The company expects its first drug candidate to begin clinical trials in 2013.

NovaTarg was founded in 2009 by Batchelor, a pharmaceutical industry veteran who rose to become senior vice president for drug discovery at GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK). NovaTarg has been financially supported by grants. In addition to National Institutes of Health grants, the company also received a total of $223, 516 in grant money from the Therapeutic Discovery Project. The federal program allocated $1 billion in tax credits and grants, capped at $5 million per applicant, for projects that show potential to produce new therapies.

Get the latest news alerts: Follow WRAL Tech Wire at Twitter.