Technology to Assess Neurons Gives New Life to San Diego’s Afraxis

Xconomy San Diego — 

San Diego’s Afraxis, which ceased to exist in January after the neuroscience startup licensed its entire library of drug compounds to Roche’s Genentech, has sprung back to life with proprietary technology that was not part of the $187.5 million deal.

Afraxis developed the technology to help assess the effectiveness of potential drug compounds in disorders of the central nervous system (CNS). Since the company was reconstituted, Afraxis has reached deals with various drug developers that are interested in using its system in their own CNS drug discovery efforts.

“We are only four months in existence, and we are going to be profitable this year,” said Afraxis CEO Carmine Stengone, who joined the startup in 2010 as vice president of business development. He negotiated much of the licensing deal with Genentech, which resulted in Afraxis being converted into a holding company set up to receive Genentech’s milestone payments.

As we’ve previously reported, Afraxis was founded in 2007 to advance research done by the Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa and others that identified a possible drug target for treating Fragile X syndrome, the second leading cause of mental retardation. The target they identified was PAK, an enzyme that affects the number, size, and shape of connections between neurons in the brain.

Stengone said that Roche’s Genentech was only interested in the therapeutic pipeline that Afraxis had developed. So, after the licensing deal was completed, Stengone became the CEO of a new company—also called Afraxis—that was spun out to commercialize the drug-assessment technology. San Diego’s Avalon Ventures, which bankrolled the first Afraxis, also is majority owner of the second Afraxis, Stengone said.

Most of the eight deals completed so far have been simple fee-for-service arrangements, Stengone said. But a partnership agreement announced last week with Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, the Marlborough, MA-based company previously known as Sepracor, is a bigger deal.

“What made the Sunovion deal different is … Next Page »

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