With $1.3M in Seed Funding, Arcturus Adds to RNAi Hub in San Diego

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego-based Arcturus Therapeutics, a startup founded earlier this year to develop new drugs based on RNA interference (RNAi) technology, says it has raised $1.3 million in seed funding from multiple individual investors in the United States and Canada.

The startup, founded by pharmaceutical scientists and former Nitto Denko executives Joseph Payne and Pad Chivukula, began operating several months ago in the Janssen Labs incubator carved out of J&J’s Janssen Research & Development facility in San Diego headquarters. They have worked to develop drugs for such companies as DuPont Pharmaceuticals, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Kalypsys.

Arcturus is the fifth RNAi specialist to establish operations in the San Diego area. “It’s kind of turning into a hub for this kind of technology,” says Payne, the Arcturus CEO.

Japan’s Nitto Denko established a technical subsidiary in Oceanside, CA, in 2000 with an R&D focus that included drug delivery, gene delivery, and related technologies for nucleic acid synthesis. In early January, San Francisco-based venBio and Switzerland’s Aeris Capital AG provided $18 million in Series A funding to Solstice Biologics, which established its research and development team in San Diego to develop RNAi technology licensed from U.C. San Diego. RNA specialist Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS), with 28 antisense drugs in its pipeline, was founded in Carlsbad, CA, in 1989. Regulus Therapeutics (NASDAQ: RGLS) was spun out by Isis and Cambridge, MA-based Alkermes Pharmaceuticals in 2007 to develop microRNA therapeutics.

The global market for RNAi drugs is expected to exceed $4 billion by 2017, according to a report from Global Industry Analysts. Scientists have been evaluating interference RNA molecules as a way to block the production of malicious proteins by mutated genes, using different types of RNA molecules and testing a variety of delivery mechanisms to get RNA drugs through the protective cellular barrier.

Payne was a group leader and senior manager when Japan’s Nitto Denko entered clinical development with nanoparticle technology for a novel RNAi therapeutic to treat liver fibrosis. Chivukula, who is chief scientific officer and COO, also specialized in nanoparticle drug delivery systems at Nitto Denko. They are developing a novel delivery system at Arcturus, Chivukula says.

Arcturus is targeting rare diseases for which there is no adequate treatment. Arcturus says proceeds of the funding will be used to purchase capital equipment, advance the startup’s proprietary drug delivery technology, RNAi target selection, and design of pre-clinical, proof-of-concept studies.

In a statement issued by the company, Payne says, “Researchers have made great strides in recent years in diagnosing, treating and even preventing a variety of rare diseases. Still, much more remains to be done because there are no treatments for the vast majority of rare diseases which affect an estimated 25 million to 30 million Americans.”

Craig Willett, CEO of coaching services provider Voice of the Entrepreneur, has joined its board of directors, according to a separate release from Arcturus today. Nicholas M. Dean, who founded Excaliard Pharmaceuticals in 2006, joined the Arcturus scientific advisory board.