March 12, 2019
Bioscience Notebook

CT grant program seeking health tech entrepreneurs; Bioasis CEO exits

PHOTO | Contributed | IsoPlexis
PHOTO | Contributed | IsoPlexis
Entrepreneurs in the medical technology field can apply for cash grants through the Connecticut Bioscience Pipeline.
PHOTO | Contributed
Deborah Rathjen

The Connecticut Bioscience Pipeline, a state-backed program that aims to help entrepreneurs turn medical technology ideas into new business ventures, announced it is accepting applications for its latest funding round.

The state's quasi-public venture capital arm, Connecticut Innovations, said it will accept applications through 5 p.m. on April 26.

Launched in 2015, the pipeline is a partnership between CI, Yale University, Quinnipiac University and the University of Connecticut. It allows entrepreneurs and early-stage companies in the medical devices, drug delivery, diagnostics or health IT spaces to compete for grants.

Through the program, teams can qualify for up to $30,000 over 12 months to be used for business strategy, market definition and prototyping and proof-of-concept activities, program officials said.

Eligible applicants may include established companies, student groups or faculty members, all of whom must be affiliated with a Connecticut university. Projects from the pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals and fundamental biology sectors are ineligible.

Since the program's inception, 30 teams have shared grants totaling $900,000 and have subsequently raised $14 million in follow-on investments from other sources.

Past winners have included a wearable device to help detect strokes and a mobile app to pair cancer patients with clinical trials.

The latest round is the first of four scheduled for 2019 and 2020. The next call for applications will take place in October. Selection criteria include likelihood of technical success, degree of innovation and unmet need, potential for federal regulatory approval, potential for external funding and team quality.

Visit the program's website for more information.

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Bioasis Technologies Inc., which moved its headquarters from Canada to Guilford last year, announced the exit of its top executive Monday and named its board chair the new CEO and president.

The company said CEO Mark Day, MD, would be replaced by Deborah A. Rathjen, effective immediately. Rathjen has been serving as Bioasis' executive chair since Dec. 10 and previously helmed Australia-based biopharma Bionomics.

"Deborah has significant experience in company building and financing, mergers and acquisitions, therapeutic product research and development, business development, licensing and commercialization," David M. Wurzer, lead independent director for the company, said in an announcement. "Her skills and track record, combined with her recent experience working closely with Bioasis management in her capacity as executive chair, put her in a strong position to assume leadership of the company."

In the announcement, the board thanked Day, a former Purdue Pharma and Alexion executive, for his contributions to the company but did not elaborate on reasons for his departure. Neither Bioasis officials nor Day could immediately be reached for further comment.

Bioasis has developed a proprietary technology to transport drugs across the brain's filtering mechanism, known as the blood-brain barrier. The barrier makes some drugs which work elsewhere in the body ineffective on brain diseases.

The early-stage company is researching ways to use the technology to treat brain cancer and other neurological diseases.

Rathjen said in a statement that her immediate priority was securing additional funding to ensure the company had sufficient resources to continue its development and partnering initiatives.

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New Haven-born rare-disease drugmaker Achillion Pharmaceuticals Inc. reported narrower losses in 2018 following a restructuring and round of layoffs last year.

For the three months ended Dec. 31, Achillion posted a net loss of $16.6 million, compared to $23.2 million in the year-ago period.

For the year, Achillion reported a net loss of $70.3 million, or 51 cents a share, compared to $85.2 million, or 62 cents a share, in 2017.

The company, which has new senior management and moved its headquarters and half of its 60 employees to suburban Philadelphia in January, reported operating expenses of $75.9 million for the year, down from $89.6 million in 2017. For the fourth quarter, expenses fell to $18.2 million from $24.4 million in 2017.

Achillion attributed the drop in part to fewer employees and lower discovery research costs related to its next-generation Factor D inhibitor ACH-5228.

The company, which maintains a research presence in New Haven, last year announced it would reduce its headcount by 20 percent shortly after Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals ended its hepatitis C partnership with the biotech.

Achillion said it still had $271 million on hand after reducing its net cash spend to $60 million for the year. It expects to spend $80 million in 2019. It reported no revenues, as it has yet to develop a commercial product.

Achillion develops drugs that inhibit Factor D, an enzyme of the complement system, which is part of the immune system and plays a role in some immune-related disorders.

Its portfolio includes two drugs to treat rare kidney and blood disorders in Phase 2 clinical trials. The company said it plans to seek U.S. Food & Drug Administration approval to advance its next-generation Factor D inhibitor into clinical trials by the end of 2019.

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New Haven's BioXcel Therapeutics Inc., a company which uses artificial intelligence for drug discovery, reported higher fourth-quarter and 2018 losses as it raced toward the clinic with drugs for agitation and pancreatic cancer.

For the three months ended Dec. 31, the company posted a net loss of $7.1 million, compared to $2.5 million in the year-ago period.

For the year, BioXcel reported a net loss of $19.3 million, compared to $4.5 million in 2017.

The company launched a rapid expansion of its research activities following its initial public offering last year, pushing its 2018 R&D expenses to $14.5 million, up from just $2.7 million in 2017.

It attributed the increase to higher personnel costs, professional fees, clinical trials and manufacturing costs for its two lead drug candidates, BXCL501 and BXCL701.

BXCL501, a repurposed thin-film formulation of an older drug known as Dex, treats agitation in dementia, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. BXCL701 is an immunotherapy drug that targets pancreatic cancer.

The company reported no revenue and said it had $42.6 million in cash and cash equivalents as of Dec. 31, 2018.

Contact Natalie Missakian at news@newhavenbiz.com

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