Tech startup of the month.

Author:Peterson, Eric
Position:Hightech Colorado Biz - Brief Article - Statistical Data Included



INITIAL LIGHTBULB: Founded by a quartet of former NeXstar Pharmaceuticals employees (Bruce Eaton, Torin Dewey, Dan Nieuwlandt, and Ted Tarasow), Invenux is bringing a patented process called evolutionary chemistry to market, with hopes of streamlining research and development for the pharmaceutical industry.

Evolutionary chemistry, from a research field dubbed "combinatorial chemistry," uses ribonucleic acid (RNA) sequences to produce molecules that could potentially be used as drugs. The RNA acts as a "bar code" to identify the most efficacious compounds for further testing, said Invenux President and CEO Carl Pelzel. "The objective is to find better drugs faster."

But the process has actually been in development for a long time.

Acquired by Calif-based Gilead Sciences Inc. in 1999, Boulder-based NeXstar developed evolutionary chemistry in-house over six years, but the company never commercialized the process.

Eight years, one merger, and one startup later, commercialization "has been accomplished," said Pelzel, as Invenux is just now bringing the process to market. That has been Invenux's plan since its inception, when the company bought all rights to evolutionary chemistry for an undisclosed sum.

IN A NUTSHELL: The way Pelzel explains it, in the field of drug discovery, "There are trillions and trillions of potential compounds. Pharmaceutical companies are actively looking for that needle in a haystack, if you will. Instead of manufacturing one small molecule at a time and then testing that against the target, we use RNA much like a protein to create a library of 5 to 50 million compounds.

"We're then able to extract the most potent molecules, much like putting a magnet on the haystack to find that needle. It's a shift in paradigm."

The average R&D cost of a new drug has skyrocketed from $231 million to $800 million over the past decade and a half. Evolutionary chemistry "is revolutionary in that it is faster," Peizel said. "The current industry standard is to generate 25,000 to 100,000 compounds, and to take four and a half years to find a compound." In comparison, Invenux can use evolutionary chemistry to sort through millions of compounds in a year's time. "Even though companies are spending more and more on research and...

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