Trevena lands $35M round to fund its first PhII

With its lead drug poised to start a Phase II clinical trial at the beginning of next year, Trevena has raised enough venture funds to fuel its work right through the proof-of-concept stage. New Enterprise Associates and Polaris Venture Partners led the round, with all other existing Trevena investors--Alta Partners, Healthcare Ventures and Yasuda Economic Development Corporation--chipping in to a $35 million round.

Armed with knowledge on GPCR-targeting biased ligands developed in the labs of Duke's Robert J. Lefkowitz and Howard A. Rockman, King of Prussia, PA-based Trevena has set out on a mission to prove that it has the technology needed to select the ideal pathway to target a broad range of diseases, with the first program targeted at acute heart failure.

Trevena's second program is a biased ligand therapy for the mu opioid receptor, a pain drug designed to achieve enhanced efficacy with reduced side effects. Trevena will be selecting a preclinical compound this year with plans to push into the clinic in 2012.

"Potentially (the technology) does have an application to any GPCR receptor," CEO Maxine Gowen tells FierceBiotech. "GPCR ligands signal through multiple pathways, with different biological endpoints." Find a pathway that goes to the right destination, she adds, and you can make a better drug. "It would be ideal for the company to partner at the end of Phase II," says the CEO. And Trevena is also looking to add to the $7.65 million NIH grant it won late last year with more of the same kind of non-dilutive cash.

Trevena has a staff of up to 30 employees now, a far cry from the corporate structure Gowen was familiar with when she worked at GlaxoSmithKline, where she handled partnering activities and at one stage helmed the SR One investment arm. "What I enjoy most about being in this environment is the ability to have all the people close by to analyze problems and resolve issues," she says, "and the speed with which that can be done."

Of course, Gowen also knows that if Trevena is successful, a big player like GSK could come along and snap up the company. "I think if we show that this technology really is applicable broadly to GPCRs, there is a possibility that a larger company would see it as a great acquisition prospect."

- here's the Trevena release