Emerging Drug Developer: Sonexa Therapeutics

Add Sonexa Therapeutics to the list of biotech companies in hot pursuit of a new therapy to treat Alzheimer’s disease. But don’t look for much detail on the program--yet.

Just days ago an A-list of venture capital groups chipped in $30 million on a Series A for the newly formed Sonexa. The San Diego-based biotech has an experienced start-up hand--Eckard Weber, M.D.--running the operation. Weber already has a list of more than a dozen different biotechs started under his guidance.

A partner at Domain since 2001, Weber has been the founding CEO of NovaCardia, Novacea, Ascenta Therapeutics, and Ocera Therapeutics. And he’s the start-up CEO at Sonexa as well as Calixa Therapeutics. Sonexa President and CMO Sharon Rogers, Ph.D., is also on board. Dr. Rogers is credited with playing a leading role in developing Aricept, the top-selling Alzheimer's medication on the market.

Most of these Domain companies followed a very similar development pattern: the venture capital group went out and found an early-stage development product and built a company around it with other venture investors. In Sonexa’s case, Domain Associates, L.L.C., Scale Venture Partners and Alta Partners led the round, with funds added by AgeChem Venture Fund, and MC Life Science Ventures.

“One of the things we do at Domain is that we look at therapeutic areas which we think are of a particular interest for potential investment and then we go out proactively to look for investment opportunities,” Weber tells FierceBiotech. “That includes going out and looking for product opportunities all over the world. And if we find one, we buy or license the product and create a company around the product and make an investment.”

One of the most successful companies to follow this path, says Weber, was Cerexa, which Forest Laboratories bought out for $480 million plus $100 million in potential milestones in late 2006. Cerexa’s main attraction was Ceftaroline, an antibiotic that at the time of the buyout was preparing to go into Phase III trials. Weber was chairman of Cerexa when it was sold.

Weber has some similarly great expectations for Sonexa’s lead program. But he isn’t willing to reveal much about it. The therapy was licensed from an unnamed Japanese company.

“We’ve not disclosed the mechanism of action and will not do so for the present time,” says Weber. “The drug is a very interesting candidate for Alzheimer’s disease treatment and has shown a very interesting activity in a wide variety of preclinical models. We think it’s a potential breakthrough.”

The new drug developer will have enough funds on hand to determine exactly what kind of potential it has. Dr. Rogers will supervise a Phase I study that begins in a matter of days and will wrap before the end of this year. And the $30 million in the bank should be enough to get the therapy through Phase II by mid-2010. Somewhere along that way, Weber expects to hire his replacement as CEO.

“The many, many companies I’ve started I was interim CEO for periods of anywhere from three months to two years,” he says. “And then I replace myself. When the time is right to do that, I will replace myself as CEO of Sonexa. When that will be, we will determine as time goes by.”

For now, Sonexa is operating on what Weber describes as a “semi-virtual model,” with a total of 10 to 15 people working full and part-time. Outsourcing through the start-up phase will be a common theme.

Weber is also not commenting on whether the company is adding any other therapies to its single-shot pipeline. In the meantime, look for him to keep adding new start-ups to his already lengthy resumes.

Says Weber: “I do about one or two of these a year.”

Emerging Drug Developer: Sonexa Therapeutics
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