Vestaron Corp. has received an additional $4 million from Anterra Capital in its Series C round, raising the total funding to $14 million. Other investors in the Series C round included Cultivian Sandbox Ventures, Southwest Michigan First Life Science Venture Fund, Open Prairie Ventures, Pangaea Ventures and Michigan Accelerator Fund. Based in Kalamazoo, Mich., Vestaron is a producer of pesticides.
KALAMAZOO, MI–(Marketwired – Oct 28, 2014) – Vestaron Corporation, a company that designs environmentally friendly insecticides, announced today the final close of its Series C Financing. Anterra Capital, based in the Netherlands, added $4M to the $10M previously announced to bring total funding to $14M. Anterra Capital is jointly funded by Moonray Investors, the proprietary investment arm of FIL Limited, the parent company of Fidelity Worldwide Investment, and Rabo Private Equity, the proprietary private equity arm of Rabobank. The round also included Cultivian Sandbox Ventures, Southwest Michigan First Life Science Venture Fund, Open Prairie Ventures, Pangaea Ventures, Michigan Accelerator Fund and others.
“I’m very pleased to welcome Anterra to the Vestaron team. Their perspectives will be greatly valued on the Board of Directors, and their experience in food and agriculture will be invaluable to us going forward,” said John Sorenson, CEO of Vestaron. “We’re overwhelmed to have attracted so much interest from the international venture capital community.”
Philip Austin, a Partner in Anterra Capital, said, “We’re delighted to be supporting Vestaron. We’ve been watching the Company for several years now, and we feel the time is right to make an investment in this groundbreaking company. The commercialization of their first product is proving that natural peptides can be a valuable source of novel insecticides providing farmers with a crop protection tool that has the power of chemicals with the safety profile of biologicals.”
Vestaron exploits the natural insecticidal properties of a class of peptides which have potent insect killing potential, but which are safe to humans, birds, fish, and the environment, including honeybees. These peptides utilize new modes of action that have never before been used for insect control, and therefore do not suffer from insect resistance. In addition to the bioinsecticides, the Company is putting the genes for the peptides into crop plants, and is modeling the active sites of the peptides to identify synthetic mimics that also have a favorable safety spectrum.
ProNAi Therapeutics, a developer of nucleic acid therapeutics, has expanded its senior management team with five additions. Joining the firm are Dr. Angie You as chief business and strategy officer and head of commercial; Wendy Chapman as senior vice president of clinical operations; Chandra Lovejoy as senior vice president of global regulatory affairs and quality; Emma McCann as vice president of program management; and James Smith as vice president of corporate affairs. ProNAi’s backers include Vivo Capital, Frazier Healthcare Ventures, OrbiMed Advisors, Adams Street Partners, RA Capital Management, Caxton Alternative Management, Hopen Life Science Ventures, Sectoral Asset Management and Janus Capital Management.
VANCOUVER, BC and PLYMOUTH, MI, Oct. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ – ProNAi Therapeutics Inc., a private company dedicated to developing and commercializing a new class of therapies based on its proprietary DNAi® platform, today announced that it has added five seasoned executives to its senior management team.
Dr. Angie You, Chief Business & Strategy Officer & Head of Commercial
Wendy Chapman, Senior Vice President, Clinical Operations
Chandra Lovejoy, Senior Vice President, Global Regulatory Affairs & Quality
Emma McCann, Vice President, Program Management
James Smith, Vice President, Corporate Affairs
“We are rapidly building a professional leadership team to ensure our lead oncology drug, PNT2258, has the best prospects for clinical and commercial success, while also focusing on advancing a broad oncology pipeline built upon our novel and proprietary DNAi platform,” said Dr. Nick Glover, President & CEO of ProNAi Therapeutics. “These executives add deep experience in clinical trial execution, regulatory negotiation and capital markets access, and are essential to the further growth of our company. In addition, Dr. Angie You, our Chief Business & Strategy Officer and Head of Commercial has an outstanding track record in the biotech industry and will be responsible for leading the development and operationalization of our growth-oriented strategic plan, including the anticipated North American commercialization of our oncology products.”
Dr. Angie You, Chief Business & Strategy Officer and Head of Commercial
Dr. You heads the newly created position of Chief Business & Strategy Officer & Head of Commercial, and will lead the Company’s strategic and transactional business and commercial efforts. Prior to joining ProNAi, Dr. You served as the Chief Business Officer of Aragon Pharmaceuticals, a private oncology drug discovery and development company, where she was responsible for finance, operations, HR and business development. During her tenure, she helped raise $90M in two successful rounds of financing for the company, and led the business development process resulting in the $1B acquisition of Aragon Pharmaceuticals by Johnson & Johnson for an upfront payment of $650M and $350M in contingent milestones. Prior to Aragon, Angie served as Chief Business Officer at a number of companies including Synosia Therapeutics and Ren Pharmaceuticals. She also worked at Venrock Ventures, focused on new company formation, and ran the BD process for Anacor Pharmaceuticals, a Venrock portfolio company, resulting in an early Phase 2a licensing agreement with Schering Plough providing an initial $50M upfront and up to $575 million in milestones. After completing her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Harvard College, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Harvard University, Angie started her biotech career at McKinsey Consulting, focusing mainly on strategy, marketing and innovation-focused projects with biotech clients.
Wendy Chapman, Senior Vice President, Clinical Operations
Ms. Chapman heads the newly created position of Senior Vice President, Clinical Operations, with corporate accountability for the overall operational deployment of clinical studies. Prior to joining ProNAi, Wendy was the Portfolio Director at PAREXEL International where she was the senior point of contact for all issues related to the financial and operational execution of Phase II-IV global clinical trials for one of PAREXEL’s largest Strategic Alliance Partners. Previously, Ms. Chapman was the Vice President of Clinical Operations at YM Biosciences Inc., where she was responsible for the development and management of Clinical Operations which included Project Management, Clinical Monitoring, Clinical Supply Management and Data Management of Phase I-III clinical trials in myelofibrosis and various solid tumor indications. Wendy has more than 25 years of experience in clinical drug development at several pharmaceutical and contract research organizations in Canada and the U.S., including Viventia Biotech, AAI Pharma, Bayer Inc., AstraZeneca and MDS.
Chandra Lovejoy, Senior Vice President, Global Regulatory Affairs and Head of Quality
Ms. Lovejoy heads the newly created position of Senior Vice President, Global Regulatory Affairs and Head of Quality, with more than 15 years of progressive experience in global regulatory affairs and drug development in large and small companies overseeing pre-clinical through post-marketing phases. Most recently, Chandra was the Vice President of Global Regulatory Affairs at Endocyte, and prior to that she held a leadership role in Regulatory Affairs at Genentech, primarily on the Avastin program. Chandra brings experience driving cutting-edge global regulatory strategy and leading cross-functional team activities including new IND submissions, implementation and conduct of global clinical trials, successful negotiations with both FDA and European health authorities regarding complex pivotal trials, and the submission and review of marketing applications.
Emma McCann, Vice President, Program Management
Ms. McCann heads the newly created position of Vice President, Program Management and joins ProNAi with more than 14 years of progressive experience in clinical research and program management. Emma was formerly Sr. Director, Program Management at YM BioSciences Inc., where she had a critical role within the organization focused on the progression of the company’s lead drug through a myelofibrosis clinical development program. Following the acquisition of YM by Gilead Sciences, Inc., her leadership of transitional activities led to a seamless transfer of key corporate assets allowing for execution of ongoing development plans with minimal overall timeline impact. Emma holds a B.Sc. (Hons) in Bio-Medical Science from The University of Guelph, Ontario.
James Smith, Vice President, Corporate Affairs
Mr. Smith heads the newly created position of Vice President, Corporate Affairs, primarily responsible for the Company’s strategic investor relations and corporate communications activities. James was formerly Vice President, Corporate Development at SQI Diagnostics, a public multiplex protein assay company serving global pharmaceutical companies. Prior to this, he was Vice President, Corporate Affairs at YM BioSciences Inc., a public drug development company acquired by Gilead Sciences Inc. for $510 million. During his tenure at YM, he helped raise more than $140M in two successful rounds of financing for the company. Prior to YM, he led the Healthcare practice at TMX Equicom, a leading strategic investor relations consulting firm he joined in 2001, acquired by the Toronto Stock Exchange in 2007. He gained his initial capital markets experience as a biotechnology analyst at a venture capital firm. He also conducted research for eight years primarily focused on animal cell culture. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Chemistry and a Master’s degree in Biochemical Engineering from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
About ProNAi Therapeutics
ProNAi Therapeutics is a private company dedicated to developing and commercializing a new class of therapies based on its proprietary DNAi platform, for patients with cancer and other diseases. ProNAi’s lead DNAi drug is PNT2258, which is specifically designed to treat cancers that overexpress BCL2. To date, 35 patients have been treated with PNT2258 in a Phase I and a pilot Phase II trial, with compelling efficacy and safety results. In May 2014, ProNAi raised approximately $60M from leading healthcare investors. For more information, please visit www.pronai.com.
A local biotechnology company should begin human clinical trials on two new drugs that affect neural pathways in the brain within the next year, and the results could open up new horizons of hope for sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other cognitive impairments, the company’s founder says.Grand Rapids-based Tetra Discovery Partners recently announced new private funding from the Grand Angels investment group, and Tetra founder, chairman and CEO Dr. Mark Gurney says that with the new funding and its existing grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), his company has the resources needed to ready two of its drug candidates for human clinical trials and apply for FDA approval for those tests. The new drugs should begin clinical trials by next September, Gurney says, and Tetra should have significant data about the drugs and their efficacy in humans “within about three years from now,” he adds. Gurney, who has a background in brain and cognitive science and previously worked for an international biotechnology company before he started Tetra in 2011, says that his company’s two new drugs work in fundamentally different ways from the treatment options that are currently available to Alzheimer’s and TBI patients, and could significantly improve patients’ quality of life if the company’s early results translate to human trials. The company’s brain injury drug, Dr. Gurney says, aims to improve learning and memory in patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The drug works, he says, by reducing inflammation in the brain, which seems to be one of the primary causes of cognitive impairment in TBI patients. “With this brain injury drug,” he says, “we have a model where a rat that has sustained a brain injury three months earlier is really not able to learn. A single dose of the drug, and that animal has its learning restored to normal levels.” “What’s interesting,” he adds, “is that in the presence of the drug, when dosed with the drug, [the rat] can make a memory, but then if you take away the drug, it can retrieve that memory, but [now] it can’t form a new memory [again]. So it’s really quite amazing, the way these drugs are working on the brain.”
Alzheimer’s drug, meanwhile, works to “modulate,” or re-configure, a particular fundamental neural pathway in the brain that contributes to memory and learning, Dr. Gurney says. While current drugs that treat memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients can usually only prevent the patient’s memory from worsening, Gurney says, early results on Tetra’s drug suggest that it could actually reverse a patient’s cognitive decline and restore memory functions that had previously been lost. “The [Alzheimer’s] drugs we’re working with actually improve memory in healthy animals,” Gurney says. “So they improve performance beyond what the healthy person is currently capable of. So with Alzheimer’s patients, we hope it will help improve their ability in daily living. We’d like to see an improvement rather than just them not worsening.” Besides Alzheimer’s disease, Gurney says, the drug’s ability to reconfigure a patient’s neural pathways means that it might also have applications in treating Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and schizophrenia, among other cognitive-impairment conditions. “It’s a very fundamental biochemical pathway in the brain that this drug is affecting,” Gurney says. “And what the animal studies are telling us is that the efficacy should be very good, and it could be very helpful to patients across all these different diseases.” Dr. Lance Stewart, a managing partner at Tetra Discovery who has a Ph.D. in biochemistry and virology, says that Dr. Gurney’s drugs for traumatic brain injury comprise some of the most promising and exciting treatment options he’s seen since he first took a scientific interest in the area of TBI in the 1990s. Stewart previously worked with Dr. Gurney at deCODE genetics, Inc., an Iceland-based biopharmaceutical company. The two worked together on discovering molecules for cognition enhancement until 2010, when financial difficulties at deCODE caused both scientists to pursue other ventures. Stewart’s new company, Emerald BioStructures, quickly began collaborating with Tetra, and Stewart eventually transitioned out of the company and wound up at Tetra himself. “I had worked on cognition with Mark [Gurney] before,” Stewart says, “but I was struck by the lack of anything for traumatic brain injury, anything for recovery or along those lines. I had looked at it in the ‘90s and just found that it was a tremendously challenging area. Since every TBI is different, it’s very hard to run clinical trials on TBI and receive solid outcomes.” “I think there’s a better understanding of memory and cognition at the molecular level [now],” he continues, “which is going to help companies like Tetra develop drugs in a smarter way using imaging. There are tons of new brain imaging technologies today that are enabling us to have a better understanding of how drugs affect chemistry in the brain.” Dr. Stewart’s interest in traumatic brain injury, in particular, has a deeply personal component. His son, Jackson, suffered severe head trauma in a 2011 car crash at the age of 18, and spent over 20 days in a coma. Although Jackson regained consciousness and recovered his ability to walk and talk, Dr. Stewart says his son faced a long road of rehabilitation and recovery, and has since struggled with slurred speech, balance issues, memory and speech challenges, and nerve palsy and vision impairment in his right eye. Besides the cognitive effects of the injury, Jackson experienced significant personality changes after the crash — a known and well-documented phenomenon that sometimes occurs after a traumatic brain injury. Although Dr. Stewart says he and his wife found Jackson to be more mature and reflective after the crash, Jackson also felt disconnected from his life before the injury, he says.
At one point, Stewart says, his son pored over posts from his old Facebook account to re-learn about himself. Later, he deleted the old account and started from scratch with a new one. “He’s still recovering today, slowly,” Dr. Stewart says of his son. “So it was very disruptive for him, and it resets one’s priorities. You go on with your daily life until you face a close-to-death experience like that out of the blue, and then suddenly everything else just kind of falls by the wayside.” Dr. Stewart says he hopes that Tetra’s TBI drugs could one day speed the long process of rehabilitation for patients like Jackson, who is today enrolled in a degree program at the University of Colorado in Boulder as he continues his recovery. “Mark’s drugs are not meant for critical care — it’s not something you would take to save yourself,” Stewart says. “There are other drugs people are working on like that, but… One thing that’s very clear [with TBI] is that the ability to rapidly recover depends on the ability of the brain to establish memories in the short term and long term, because you’re having to re-learn a lot of things.” “So molecules like Mark is working on could potentially be used in conjunction with rehab in the future,” he finishes, “to really accelerate rehabilitation of patients after an injury.” Although Drs. Stewart and Gurney and the other managing partners at Tetra provide the industry experience and scientific expertise that fuels the company’s drug innovations, Dr. Gurney says Grand Valley State University deserves credit for some of the company’s ability to create cutting-edge drug platforms out of West Michigan. Without the incubator space in the GVSU Cook-DeVos Center, where Tetra’s office resides, and its associated life-science lab space, Gurney says, Tetra wouldn’t be able to exist in Grand Rapids. He also credits a statewide and nation-spanning network of biomedical science collaborators, including the Broad Institute at Harvard and MIT and the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, in helping Tetra Discovery Partners to raise its nationwide profile and expand its scope. “For a small West Michigan company, we’ve really been able to reach outside the state,” Gurney says, “and it’s basically the quality of the science and the innovative nature of the drugs we’re working on here that excites people.” Steven Thomas Kent is the editor at Roadbelly magazine and a high-tech, high-growth features writer at Rapid Growth Media. Stalk him on Twitter@steventkent or e-mail him at email@example.com for story tips and feedback. Photography by Adam Bird
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