For Logical Therapeutics It’s a New City and a New Approach to Anti-Inflammatory Drugs; For the CEO, It’s a Whole New Career
For a company so new it still has that new-car smell (literally—the firm’s slate-and-beige carpet is still very much in off-gas mode), Logical Therapeutics has made some decent distance on the road to commercializing its first product. The Waltham, MA-based biotech startup already has a drug in clinical trials—one that could ultimately address a multibillion-dollar market—as well as two active preclinical programs. And, as I learned from cofounder and CEO Mitchell Fink, Logical has a strategy in place for getting maximal mileage out of its venture funding.
I visited Fink yesterday at Logical’s headquarters in a low-slung brick building just off of I-95 in Waltham, and found him, cofounder Carolyn Green, and their eight colleagues rattling around in some 8,000 square feet of newly built-out office and lab space. (The company’s three scientists share one of the most spacious lab setups I’ve ever seen.) Logical moved into the building just last week, after camping out for a few months in temporary quarters down the street while the renovation was under way. Logical has just made the leap to the Boston area from Pittsburgh, where Fink and Green founded the company two years ago, at the behest of the Series B investors who gave the firm some $30 million this past June. Those investors—including SV Life Sciences, Burrill & Company, and Novo A/S—thought that Logical would have a better chance of recruiting the managers and scientists it needed in a city like Boston, San Diego, or San Francisco. “They gave us a menu of options, and for a variety of reasons we chose Boston,” Fink says.
Right around that same time, and also at the investors’ urging, Fink—then the chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Critical Care Medicine, which he had helped launch several years earlier—made the choice to leave a lengthy career in academia and join Logical full time as its second employee. Green, a Pitt colleague of Finks who had been the health sciences director of the university’s Office of Enterprise Development, had became Logical employee number one about a year earlier, when the company raised its Series A round. (Logical has not disclosed the amount raised in that round, which it closed in July of 2006.)
Fink, a surgeon by training who has held a series of professorships in the UMass, Harvard, and Pitt systems, was no stranger to entrepreneurship. In 2000, he cofounded Lexington, MA-based Critical Therapeutics; the company (NASDAQ: CRTX) went public in 2004. That same year, Fink was appointed Pitt’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Translational Research and Commercialization, a position that allowed him to help other scientists decide when and how to commercialize their own work. But before taking the helm at Logical, Fink had never actually done the company thing full time.
“I was a very successful academic clinician/scientist, I think it’s fair to say,” Fink says. (Indeed, his CV includes a litany of NIH research grants.) “I had been doing it for more than 20 years, but I always thought the time to make a change was when you were at the top of your game.” What’s more, Fink says, “Development work in industry is closer to changing public health—it’s kind of fun to have an opportunity to make that kind of difference.”
And the lead candidate in Logical’s pipeline, Fink says, is just the sort of drug that could wind up having a huge impact on public health. It’s a version of naproxen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) widely used to treat arthritis and other conditions, that has been modified to reduce the gastrointestinal side effects of NSAIDs. Such side effects—which include bleeding and perforations of the digestive tract—are responsible for some 17,000 to 20,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, and more than a billion dollars in healthcare costs, according to Fink. The development of in the 1990s of Vioxx, Bextra, and Celebrex—so-called COX-2 inhibitors—was an attempt to produce NSAIDs with minimal gastrointestinal side effects, but Vioxx and Bextra were notoriously pulled from the market after they proved to raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
It turns out that all NSAIDs carry some cardiovascular risks. Recent research points to naproxen as one of the safest from that perspective, but there’s still the gastrointestinal problems to contend with. That’s where Logical’s drug, LT-NS001, could come in.
Logical in-licensed LT-NS001 from a struggling California biotech when it became clear early on in the startup’s history that the two pieces of University of Pittsburgh science around which the company was founded were too far from commercialization to attract investors. (The company continues to pursue that work, however, with the aim of producing treatments for diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.) The idea behind the drug is elegantly simple: attach an extra molecule to naproxen that renders the drug inert in the stomach and intestine, where it could otherwise cause harm, but that falls off as soon as the drug reaches the bloodstream, allowing it to get down to business blocking inflammation and relieving pain. Competing approaches—and there are many—include paring NSAIDs with drugs that protect the stomach and bypassing the stomach altogether by delivering the drug through a patch or cream.
In animal tests, Fink says, LT-NS001 has only a “trivial” level of gastrointestinal toxicity, while providing relief from pain and inflammation that’s equivalent to regular naproxen. The company just started a Phase 1b clinical trial of the drug in Holland (the drug had already undergone one Phase 1 trial when Logical licensed it). It plans to finish that trial and begin, and hopefully complete, a proof-of-principle trial in 2008, Fink says. Should the drug continue to look good in such Phase 2 trials, Logical will look for a partner to help with the larger, more expensive Phase 3 studies, he says.
Logical is also in discussions for the rights to another clinical-stage drug, according to Fink. It’s all part of the firm’s strategy of being a “semi-virtual company” that keeps fixed costs and headcount down by making strategic use of in-licensing, outsourcing, and partnerships. To manage all those moving parts, Fink and Green have assembled a small group of senior executives with a good number of years in drug development under their belts. “It’s a very experienced management team,” says Fink, “which is terrific, because I’m not experienced.”
Before the Jimi Hendrix seeps too deeply into your brain, let me take you on a little detour back to the automotive metaphor I so tortured at the beginning. Fink says he hasn’t yet sold his house in Pittsburgh—he has a small apartment here and is still doing some commuting between the two cities. And it occurs to me that, by combing the clinical-stage work in-licensed from industry with preclinical work born of academia, Logical is not only jump-starting its own progress but also providing a roadmap that could ease the commute of other young companies between the academic and corporate worlds. One more reason why I’ll be interested to see how Logical enjoys the ride.