A biotech firm in City of Industry has secured nearly $12 million to market a newly approved drug to treat hypertension in a therapy paired with a digital monitoring platform to help ensure patient compliance.
The funding puts Marina Biotech Inc. on course to start sales of Prestalia, which is intended for patients at risk of stroke, a global market worth an estimated $20 billion annually.
Marina bought the drug from Symplmed Pharmaceuticals in Cincinnati for $1 million a year ago, according to the company, and plans to sell it with a Total Care package to encourage compliance. The bundle includes an at-blood pressure monitor with data uploaded to a digital cloud accessible to doctors and patients, with 24/7 counseling available through an online pharmacy.
“We’re very excited,” said Dr. Vuong Trieu, executive chairman for the recently revamped Marina Biotech. “We have funding to build out our sales force, to deliver our hypertension drug to patients.”
Trieu has been involved in drug research and development for more than two decades. He’s a veteran of several enterprises that have involved Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (see related Wealthiest Angelenos coverage, page 1; Special Edition starting on page 29).
Trieu served as director of pharmacology and biology at Soon-Shiong’s Abraxis Bioscience Inc. before its sale to New Jersey-based Celgene Corp. for $2.9 billion in 2010.
He then launched IgDraSol Inc., a Fountain Valley-based biotech company that was acquired in 2013 by Sorrento Therapeutics in a stock deal valued at $28.3 million. Trieu was chief executive of IgDraSol, and became chief scientific officer of Sorrento, with a seat on the board.
Sorrento maintained IgDraSol as a distinct operating unit, and sold it to Soon-Shiong’s NantPharma in a deal valued as high as $1.3 billion with milestones in 2015.
Several members of the IgDraSol founding team, including Trieu, walked away with $30 million to $40 million, he said
The infusion of nearly $12 million into Marina Biotech late last month was among the latest in significant funding rounds for the biomedical sector in Los Angeles area.
Seventeen biotech/pharma companies in the region have drawn $95.1 million since the beginning of the year, said Ahmed Enany, chief executive of the Southern California Biomedical Council, an advocacy trade group.
Marina Biotech’s funds came on the sale of preferred stock to nearly 100 investors in April. It was the third largest, after the $15.5 million deal on Jan. 23 by the Newport Beach-based Bonti Inc., and a $23 million round earlier this month by Aadi Bioscience Inc. of Pacific Palisades.
Marina Biotech has another drug in development behind its flagship Prestalia.
For now it’s called IT-102/IT-103, a combination of Celebrex, made by Pfizer Inc., with a proprietary drug that’s aimed at addressing the national opioid epidemic with a non-addictive painkiller. Trieu said the drug could gain U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval as soon as 2019. The market for opioid replacements is now estimated at $10 billion annually, according to industry observers.
Marina Biotech has gotten its footing as part of Autotelic Inc., an incubator founded by Trieu for late-stage biopharmaceutical startups.
Autotelic now oversees a consortium of biopharma companies across the western U.S., including Oncotelic Inc., Stocosil Inc., IThenaPharma Inc., and LipoMedics Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas.
Fountain Valley-based IThena Pharma was the vehicle Trieu, a native of Vietnam, used to get control of Marina Biotech through a reverse merger.
Marina Biotech, founded in 1983 in Seattle, had been unsuccessful in developing a nasal medical device to deliver insulin to diabetics. Then it moved into gene-based therapies for colorectal cancer and other illnesses.
But the company had run out of cash, Trieu said.
Marina Biotech was – and remains – a publicly traded company, with shares sold over-the counter.
“We essentially took IThenaPharma and merged it with Marina to create a public company – to transform Marina, a failed company, with a late-stage (drug) pipeline Trieu said. “That essentially saved Marina and gave it a fresh start.”
Marina Biotech immediately began raising money to establish a new pipeline of drug
Trieu extended a $540,000 line of credit from Autotelic. He and other investors then injected another $2 million in private funds, he said.
The company has yet to develop revenue streams. It posted a loss of $6.2 million last year, and has seen its share price dip significantly over the period.
It’s recent market capitalization was $10. 5 million, and it closed on its $11.7 million private placement of preferred stock to nearly 100 investors in April, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
The infusion of funds will allow Marina Biotech to pursue a double-barreled strategy of marketing Prestalia for hypertension and developing its drug intended as an opioid replacement.
Marina Biotech, which has 10 employees, is hiring 20 more sales representatives for a nationwide marketing push on Prestalia.
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