Isis Spinoff Altair Therapeutics Shut Down, After Mid-Stage Asthma Study Fails

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego-based Altair Therapeutics, a spinoff from Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS), has shut down operations after the startup’s only drug candidate failed in a mid-stage clinical trial against asthma, Xconomy has learned.

Carlsbad, CA-based Isis told investors back in November on its quarterly conference call that Altair’s lead drug candidate, AIR645, failed to show enough evidence of benefit in patients. Since then, Isis re-acquired the assets of Altair, halted further clinical development of the drug, and dissolved the company, Isis spokeswoman Amy Blackley says.

“We were disappointed,” Blackley says. “The drug was well tolerated and showed signs of activity in early studies, but not enough clinical activity to warrant further development.” The company was dissolved, as well, because AIR645 “was the only drug they had,” Blackley says.

A number of big-name venture groups made a sizable bet on Altair back in November 2009. The company raised $17 million at the time from Domain Associates, AgeChem Venture Fund, Thomas McNerney & Partners, Forward Ventures, and Isis. The company was led by Joel Martin, a former partner at Forward Ventures. Altair’s vision was to use antisense technology, which is supposed to specifically shut down activity of certain proteins, to silence the activity of two inflammatory molecules that play a role in asthma—IL-4 and IL-13. Altair hoped to tap into a potentially huge market of millions of asthmatic patients, with a drug that works via a novel biological mechanism.

Terms of the asset sale aren’t being made public. Altair only had seven employees because it operated in a “virtual” model that leaned heavily on contractors, Martin says. The Altair employees have mostly gone on to find other jobs since the company wound down in December, he says.

Personally, Martin says he’s trying to take some time off, but is already thinking about what he’ll do next. He might choose to run another biotech startup, he says, noting that he’s interested in a new idea for neurology drug development.

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