In 2005, Gonul Velicelebi was the vice president of research and drug discovery at TorreyPines Therapeutics (NASDAQ: TPTX) when scientists there determined that a molecule dubbed STIM1 played a crucial role in activating immune cells.
To Velicelebi, STIM1 was like a key that helped open a hidden pathway that scientists had been seeking for 20 years. It also opened a new path for Velicelebi, who in 2006 founded CalciMedica, a startup focused on developing a variety of small molecule drugs to suppress autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. “This is a whole new pathway for modulating immune response,” she says.
A key aspect to CalciMedica’s approach is that it appears to sidestep a buildup of toxic compounds associated with the long-term use of some drugs prescribed to prevent organ transplant rejection and to treat autoimmune diseases. “There is a huge unmet need,” Velicelebi says. “Rheumatoid arthritis alone is 2 percent of the population,” and then there is lupus and inflammatory bowel diseases, like Crohn’s disease.
The TorreyPines team had pinpointed STIM1 as a key component in … Next Page »