SAN DIEGO, November 22, 2013—Avalon Ventures today announced the launch of Sitari Pharmaceuticals, the first company formed by Avalon and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) under a unique collaboration recently established to fund and launch up to 10 early-stage life science companies in San Diego. Sitari has raised $10 million in Series A financing and R&D support from Avalon Ventures and GSK for the development of novel treatments for celiac disease. Separately, Avalon has also established COI Pharmaceuticals (COI), an unconventional venture-pharma entity that will provide operational support, a fully equipped R&D facility and an experienced leadership team to Sitari and future companies that may be created from the Avalon-GSK collaboration.
"We received an overwhelmingly positive response to the collaboration between GSK and Avalon Ventures, and established COI Pharmaceuticals to support the rapid launch of new companies as we already have an outstanding pipeline of projects to choose from," said Jay Lichter, CEO of COI and Managing Director of Avalon Ventures. "COI is a 'Community of Innovation' that provides an environment where entrepreneurial and scientific risks are encouraged and rewarded for life science inventors with bold ideas. We are attracting and in-licensing innovative discoveries with significant potential for drug development and working with founding scientists to launch promising early-stage companies such as Sitari."
Sitari Pharmaceuticals is targeting the Transglutaminase 2 (TG2) pathway for the development of treatments for multiple disease indications, with an initial focus in celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease caused by intolerance to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. The company's therapeutic approach targets TG2, an enzyme that is thought to play a multi-factorial role in celiac disease. TG2 is the primary human protein that is attacked as part of an autoimmune response in patients with celiac disease. The enzyme is also responsible for catalyzing a reaction with dietary gluten peptides that drives pathogenesis of the disease. Sitari is developing targeted inhibitors of TG2 with the potential to suppress the autoimmune response that results in intestinal inflammation and cell pathogenesis in celiac patients.
"Our collaboration with Avalon Ventures is off to a great start, and we are impressed with the quality of opportunities and the speed with which we have been able to create the first new company using this unconventional collaborative approach," said Pearl Huang, Ph.D., global head, Discovery Partnerships with Academia, at GSK. "We look forward to a productive collaboration with Avalon as we continue to launch exciting new companies to transform today's cutting-edge discoveries into promising clinical candidates that may enhance GSK's already robust pipeline."
Sitari was founded based on intellectual property in-licensed from the laboratory of Chaitan Kholsa, Ph.D., professor of chemical engineering, chemistry and biology at Stanford University, and a scientific founder of Sitari. Based on the terms of the Avalon-GSK collaboration, Avalon will provide Sitari with executive leadership and operational management consistent with its current portfolio strategy, with some support being provided directly by COI Pharmaceuticals. GSK has the option to acquire Sitari upon the identification of a clinical candidate. Should GSK elect not to exercise this option, Sitari ownership will remain with Avalon, and Avalon will be free to enter into other strategic transactions.
About COI Pharmaceuticals
COI Pharmaceuticals is an unconventional venture-pharma entity that provides life science inventors with an environment where entrepreneurial and scientific risks are encouraged and rewarded. This Community of Innovation (COI) was established to support companies funded through a collaboration between Avalon Ventures and GlaxoSmithKline, and provides the intellectual capital to launch companies, a fully-equipped R&D infrastructure and industry mentors prepared to leverage their expertise to help entrepreneurial scientists succeed. COI, founded in 2013, provides operational support to Sitari Pharmaceuticals, the first company funded through the Avalon-GSK collaboration, as well as existing Avalon portfolio companies, Afraxis, Avelas Biosciences, RQx Pharmaceuticals and Sova Pharmaceuticals.
About Avalon Ventures
Avalon Ventures is a venture capital firm that has founded and/or funded more than 100 information technology and life sciences companies. The firm is passionate about backing talented entrepreneurs seeking to build market-leading companies. Throughout the firm's 30 year tenure, Avalon's long-standing and successful focus has been on seed and early-stage companies. All Avalon partners are seasoned entrepreneurs with experience in company formation, operations and value creation in the life science and tech sectors. Avalon's current fund of $200 million, launched in 2012, continues the firm's tradition of pursuing disruptive ideas in ever changing markets.