Astellas, VCs stake virtual biotech spinout with $15M and a PhII program

Astellas and a pair of venture companies have joined forces to launch a spinout virtual biotech which will pick up mid-stage research work on an experimental therapy for nocturia. Following a model it's pursued twice before, the Japanese pharma company is licensing out the rights to the drug to the newly spawned Tacurion, joining InterWest Partners and Sutter Hill Ventures in financing the virtual operation with a $15 million investment. Tacurion, like Telsar and Seldar before it, will be operated by the experienced executive team at Bridgewater, NJ-based Drais Pharmaceuticals.

Tacurion will now be devoted to ASP7035, a vasopressin V2 receptor selective agonist which is now ready for a Phase IIa study. Nocturia is characterized by the frequent need to urinate at night, interrupting a good night's sleep.

These partners know each other well. Drais is run by a crew that had helmed Yamanouchi R&D in Paramus, NJ, and later created AkaRx, acquired by Eisai/MGI for $300 million in 2010. And the venture arms have now put together a lineup of new companies for drug development, allowing Astellas to share the cost as well as the risk involved in R&D. The venture groups get a somewhat de-risked product at an ideal stage of development and Drais gets to exercise its expertise in drug development.

This kind of drug development effort follows a track being pursued by a number of venture groups. CMEA, Atlas Venture and others have also been setting up portfolios of virtual projects that are narrowly focused on a single asset, ready to sell them off if they hit pay-dirt data. 

Astellas now has an option to buy its nocturia drug back after proof-of-concept data come in from the study, which is expected to start in the third quarter of this year. 

- here's the press release

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