Novo leads $31M round for Tobira's 'game-changing' HIV program

Novo A/S has stepped up to lead a $31 million Series B for Tobira Therapeutics, a New Jersey-based biotech that is pushing a next-gen HIV antiviral compound into a Phase IIb trial.

Tobira's lead program--a dual-action CCR5/CCR2 antagonist dubbed TBR-652, which was in-licensed from Takeda--has the potential to take its place in a therapeutic cocktail that can hold HIV at bay. In the absence of a cure or an effective vaccine, the cocktails have become essential for quelling the virus indefinitely among infected patients. Tobira's pursuing a program that it believes has "game-changing" attributes, combining an antiviral action with an anti-inflammatory to help ward off a host of cardiovascular, diabetic and other side effects that afflict HIV patients after years of therapy.

"Patients now when they see a physician and are diagnosed are told HIV is a chronic disease with a normal life expectancy, minus 10 to 15," Tobira CEO James Sapirstein tells FierceBiotech. In the Phase IIb, researchers will match the Tobira compound with standard of care and explore if TBR-652 and some of the safer HIV therapies now in play can change the math on life expectancy more in favor of the patient. That trial will recruit 200 treatment-naïve patients and wrap by the end of 2012.

Tobira has been fueled with some seed money from Domain and a $31 million Series A announced in 2007. And the eight-member virtual team at Tobira has been doing everything it can to keep the burn rate to a flicker. Sapirstein recently moved away from the high-rent section of Princeton, NJ to Manalapan to help make the Series A cash last well past the 2009 deadline it originally set for itself.

Tobira's next big milestone comes in 2013, when it will have IIb data in hand and hopefully a deep-pocket partner who can take the lead therapy into a late-stage program.

- here's the press release from Tobira