Vantia Therapeutics turns to partnering
When Vantia Therapeutics was spun out of Ferring Research early last year, the Southampton, UK-based developer set up shop with a valuable library of small molecule drug candidates, some deep-seated platform expertise and an ambitious schedule to start filing NDAs in 2012.
"It was almost like the company split in two," says Vantia CEO Jim Phillips. "Ferring kept the biologics and assets in the market" while handing on a full pipeline for the fledgling operation.
In short order Vantia moved its lead program from Phase I through a promising Phase IIa trial, with a Phase IIb study getting ready to launch. Its second program has gone from the preclinical stage into a proof-of-concept trial that Phillips describes as more of a IIb trial than a classic Phase II. "And then our third program wasn't even a program," says the CEO, "it was just ongoing research. It is now formally preclinical this year and will go into Phase I next year."
Vantia has no plans to slow down. Next year Phillips expects to have IIb data for its VA106483 program--an anti-diuretic intended to treat nocturia, a condition characterized by regularly wakening at night to urinate--in the first half of next year.
"We know it works," says Phillips. The trial should "confirm that we can meet the efficacy endpoints. Basically it's a mini-Phase III study and it will give us very clear data on the right dose to take to market."
It should also provide potential partners with a clear window into the drug's chances with regulators as well as its market potential. "Honestly, we would prefer not to fund Phase III on our own," says Phillips. "We would prefer to partner or divest this program.
"We're still running off of our Series A, $38 million dollars, and we still have a year's worth of cash," adds Phillips. If partnerships can deliver the right numbers, Phillips says that Vantia may not have to raise more funds from venture groups. And if it does have to, he's confident that the syndicate will be there. MVM Life Science Partners led the original round, with SV Life Sciences and Novo A/S contributing to the company's 19 million pounds.
"It would be nice to see a company like Vantia last the long term," says Phillips. "Most successful (biotech companies) in Europe get snapped up before they develop commercial capabilities." But Phillips also knows that his investors will have a big say in Vantia's ultimate fate.
"We're a venture capital majority-owned company," says the CEO. "With their time horizons we have to be cognizant of giving the investors an exit over three to five years. That could mean a trade exit, an IPO or even a private buyout."
Vantia has a staff of about 30 people now, up from the 23 who were on board during the spinout. Just a few weeks ago Phillips recruited Andrew Crockett as the biotech's new vice president of business development to help with the company's commercialization efforts. And he was quick to highlight Crockett's U.S. experience.
The research side of the business may grow some more, but "I think it depends on the kind of deals we do over the next year," says Phillips. "We're looking at earlier stage collaborations to help progress some of our research candidates. We're looking at an asthma program collaboration. Then we might beef up our research side."