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Calporta, Started by Avalon Ventures-GSK, Is Acquired by Merck

Xconomy San Diego — 

Another of the biopharma startups created as part of a collaboration between San Diego investment firm Avalon Ventures and GlaxoSmithKline has been acquired—but not by GSK.

Instead, the company, Calporta Therapeutics, is being absorbed by Merck (NYSE: MRK), which is interested in its preclinical work on potential treatments for lysosomal storage and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Calporta, like the other companies launched from the Avalon-GSK (NYSE: GSK) deal, has been incubating at COI Pharmaceuticals, a shared space in La Jolla, CA, created by Avalon for its portfolio companies.

Debuting in COI (which stands for “community of innovation”) in early 2015, Calporta aimed to develop drugs targeting TRPML1, a protein associated with lysosomes, the parts of cells that contain digestive enzymes that dispose of waste. Mutations in the genetic instructions for those important enzymes can cause what are known as lysosomal storage disorders.

Calporta has been working on potential treatments for those conditions, and possibly other diseases, too, including neurological disorders in which dysfunctional lysosomes may play a role. The idea behind Calporta’s science is to target TRPMK1 and by doing so, improve the process that gets rid of the waste, such as fats and sugar, which can harm health if it accumulates.

Merck paid an undisclosed upfront payment to acquire the company. Potential payments tied to the deal, contingent upon milestones, total $576 million.

Sandy Madigan (pictured above), senior vice president, business development, at COI, is Calporta’s CEO. Neither he nor the handful of people who, with him, have been advancing the Calporta pipeline will join Merck, however. (Within COI, people work for the umbrella entity, rather than directly for the startups within it.) There’s a several-month transition plan to transfer the Calporta tech and know-how to its new owner.

Earlier this year GSK did go through with one of its build-to-buy options at COI, acquiring Sitari Pharmaceuticals. The first of eight companies created through the deal with Avalon, Sitari was working on a treatment for celiac disease.

But a “change of strategic focus” prompted GSK to walk away from Calporta, according to Jay Lichter, managing director of Avalon and CEO of COI, opening the door for other suitors.

Three companies remain within COI of the slate the entities created together: Iron Horse Therapeutics, PDI Therapeutics, and Silarus Therapeutics.