By Wayne Koberstein, Executive Editor, Life Science Leader magazine
Follow Me On Twitter @WayneKoberstein
Inspiration and business sense combine in this enterprise dedicated to developing the first cure for dengue virus infection and other global disease threats.
Based on its novel platform technology of flavivirus peptide inhibitors, Ennaid Therapeutics is developing “cures” for a number of infectious diseases, starting with dengue virus and west nile virus, ultimately in oral dosage forms. Mainly outside the U.S., the deadly mosquitoborne dengue virus infects 400 million people in 125 countries and poses a $1.8 billion economic threat worldwide. The WHO and the CDC have reported nearly half of the world’s population is at risk for contracting dengue. Ennaid plans a four-year crash program for its dengue cure: a “comprehensive, IND [investigational new drug] -ready” preclinical program; a Phase 1/2a clinical development strategy; and use of orphan drug status in the U.S. and EU and compassionate- use trials in Australia or Thailand.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Ennaid Therapeutics is one of the youngest companies to appear in Companies to Watch. Yet it barely seems to have stayed in the infant stage and may have passed the typically awkward toddlerhood altogether. Starting with its staff of three, the company appears on the surface to be much less than it is. In fact, the tiny group of “employees” hold together a team of senior executives and advisors that a much larger company would envy. Baby companies in preclinical development may be expected to have a chief scientist, but how many of them have two clinical manufacturing experts — covering everything from preformulation to packaging — on the scientific advisory board? And when Ennaid licensed its peptide-based antiviral technology, it also recruited the technology’s inventor as its chief scientist, along with the co-inventor, a leader in HIV research, onto its SAB (scientific advisory board).
Just as impressive as the scientific expertise, Ennaid also brought an unusual amount of business acumen into its inner circle. Three solid financial and business experts lead the board of directors, and a separate board of advisors has a veteran start-up leader at its helm. Ennaid also has a head of regulatory affairs — another mature move.
“Once we acquired our product, it was evident that our company was built on a story that not only inspired others to do good professionally, but also inspired others to do humanitarian work, in that it was easy to build a team of dedicated, seasoned professionals from within the industry,” says the dynamic CEO, Darnisha Grant Harrison.
Although identified mainly with the poorest nations on Earth, dengue virus infection is actually the world’s fastest-growing pandemic, threatening many of the most advanced regions. Together, dengue and the target of Ennaid’s second lead program, west nile virus, shadow over most of the world’s continents. The current Ebola scare underlines why the biopharma industry should be more interested in diseases and epidemics originating outside its comfort zone, as well as access to healthcare in emerging countries, industry’s role in public health, and public/ private partnerships in drug development.
“Our drug will likely be an oral dosage form; therefore storage will be simplified at controlled room temperature. We will address this through strategic partnerships with organizations which have mature distribution programs to globally diverse regions,” Harrsion says.
The recent headlines regarding Ebola are hammering some of those points home. The continuing news alone would be a factor in choosing Ennaid as a company to watch. Certainly, Ennaid will require all the help it can get and more from the Gates Foundation and other philanthropists — and it should get it — but this is not just another potential David and Goliath story. Harrison and her team are going at this as a business, along with the grand ambitions we look for in any healthy startup. But benchmarked against many a lonely-inventor- turned-entrepreneur story, still so common in this industry, Ennaid looks positively light years ahead of the game. Perhaps its ambitions will turn out to be more realistic than merely grand.
Headquarters: Atlanta, GA, Office in New York City
Finances: $225K round raised with self-funding & family/friends
Partnerships: Worldwide, exclusive rights to technology licensed from Tulane University, Rockefeller University, Florida Gulf Coast University, & Univ. of Washington
June 2014: Invited to present at the BIO International Convention. (Not normally qualified as an update, but significant for such an early-stage company.)