Evoke Pharma Developing its Drug Candidate in Stealth Mode

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego-based Evoke Pharma has managed to maintain a low profile since early 2007, when the specialized drug development company got started with the help of some prominent names in the local biotech industry.

Cam Garner, who is listed on Evoke’s web site as a co-founder and chairman, has been on the ground floor of Cadence Pharmaceuticals and at least six other San Diego life sciences startups. Ken Widder, who has founded seven biomedical companies, including NovaCardia and Santarus, also is identified as an Evoke board member.

So when a brief surfaced recently about Evoke getting some new venture funding, I called CFO Matt D’Onofrio to clarify the terms and to learn a little more about Evoke and how it got started. D’Onofrio took my call, but he declined to discuss the deal, saying Evoke prefers to remain in stealth mode at this time. He told me all that Evoke is saying is what’s available on the company’s web site.

As limited as it is, the information is pretty interesting. A lone Evoke Pharma press release, which was dated June 15, indicates the company was headed at that time for a late-stage clinical trial of a new drug candidate for treating a particular gastrointestinal disorder known as diabetic gastroparesis. Evoke elsewhere describes gastroparesis generally as a common problem affecting some 8 million Americans in which the stomach is unable to contract normally, and therefore cannot crush food or push it into the small intestine properly. The symptoms include vomiting, bloating and pain.

Evoke says diabetes is a major cause of gastroparesis, accounting for almost one-third of all cases, although the specific mechanism is unknown. After announcing the successful completion of an early stage trial in its June press release, Evoke said it was planning to discuss its results and a late-stage clinical trial strategy with the FDA in October, with an eye toward starting final-stage trials in 2009.

That’s about the extent of the information available from Evoke’s web site, and the company issued no follow-up announcement in the fall. So perhaps that’s when CEO Dave Gonyer and the board decided it was time to slip below the radar. In fact, they had never really called attention to the company in the first place.

Nevertheless, some additional information is available from an amended disclosure form concerning Evoke’s venture investors, which the company filed with state officials in December. The paperwork shows Evoke has raised a total of almost $12.3 million in equity investments since the company was founded two years ago, although it doesn’t reveal how many tranches it has taken. The investors include Domain Associates, a venture capital firm in Princeton, NJ, that is among San Diego’s most-active life sciences investors, Latterell Venture Partners of San Francisco and individual investors.

Even if Evoke won’t discuss how they’re using the venture funding, it’s nice to know that some local biotechs are still getting funded.

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