South Side startup raises $8M for human trials of anti-inflammatory drugs
Complexa Inc. is planning human trials of a new class of anti-inflammatory drugs to treat diabetes, kidney failure and other diseases next month, but getting there involved more than medical science.
The South Side-based startup company raised more than $8 million from venture capital investors during the last two years to license and develop molecules discovered and patented by Professor Bruce Freeman and a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.
Complexa is a “great example” of the success Pittsburgh technology companies are having in raising money from so-called angel investors, said Rich Lunak, CEO of Hazelwood-based Innovation Works, a government-funded nonprofit that invests in startups and is one of the nation's most active seed-stage investors.
“The company would not be here except for the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse and Innovation Works, which provided seed money and carried us for a long time,” said Complexa's CEO Joshua Tarnoff.
The seed money and other funds raised from venture capital investors have helped the company's anti-inflammatory drugs progress from animal to human trials.
A report issued on Thursday by Innovation Works and Ernst & Young said technology companies in Pittsburgh continue to outpace national averages in money raised from venture capital investors. Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009 through 2013, the region has had a 112.9 percent increase in such financing, compared with 54.6 percent nationally. The study used data from Dow Jones Venture Source and Innovation Works, which tracks all local venture capital activity.
The report said $338 million in venture capital money was invested in 148 transactions in the region in 2013 by more than 120 venture firms. That's up from $329.1 million in 165 deals in the region in 2012 and $159.1 million in 113 deals in 2009.
Some investors appear to have been handsomely rewarded for taking risks in Pittsburgh-area companies. During the five-year period, some of them cashed in their holdings in 34 companies in transactions valued at more than $3 billion, the study said.
“We see a robust region that is gaining momentum over the past five years in terms of seed-stage investment, exits and the diversity of sectors being funded,” said Lynette Horrell, managing partner of Ernst & Young's Pittsburgh office.
Pittsburgh's research universities — Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne and Pitt — “are spinning out technologies and companies at an increasing pace, which makes Pittsburgh poised for even greater investment,” Horrell said.
Complexa is focused on developing anti-inflammatory drugs that could reverse the effects of diseases such as diabetes, based on naturally occurring nitro-fatty acids, Tarnoff said. “We have more than 100 published papers in top medical journals by others who have looked at this technology and replicated its results,” he said.
For diabetes, the drugs work to normalize blood glucose levels by turning on the anti-inflammatory pathways in the body, and turning off inflammatory pathways, Tarnoff said.
Freeman, the professor who is chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology at Pitt, along with his team first observed the agents in the 1990s. The main patent on the technology was issued in 2012.
About 12 employees and contractors are working to bring Complexa to phase one human trials, he said. Phase one trials determine dosage levels and whether a drug is safe for humans, but not whether it is effective. If successful after 18-20 months of tests, Complexa will face a decision on whether to raise more money from investors, license or sell its biotechnology, he said.
An improved economic climate for venture funding and a growing number of successful sales of companies in the Pittsburgh region is a sign of strength for investment activity in the region, according to the report.
Pittsburgh ranked third in venture transactions among regions that are active technology hubs with 52.5 deals per 1 million residents, behind only Boston with 101.3 and Austin at 62.7. The region was ahead of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, N.C., at 42.7; Denver at 30.2; Philadelphia at 26.9; and New York at 23.9.
Lunak said that “shows our great companies are able to attract the capital they need to grow.”
The region showed a 34.6 percent increase in venture investment dollars per capita and improved to eighth place from 12th place in a ranking of 18 regions.
During the past five years, 249 companies received $1.56 billion in venture funding. The study said 57 percent went to information technology and 25 percent to life sciences/health care companies.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Experts: If health insurers’ safeguard goes broke, consumers could pay
- Nike, Under Armour invest in watching exercisers’ steps
- Mylan raises bid for fellow drugmaker; Perrigo says ‘no’
- Pittsburgh union serving TV, film production looking for lots of help
- Tech sector drives gains on Wall Street
- Visa limits vex businesses
- MedExpress bought by United Health Group
- Planned Smallman Place condos in Strip District selling fast
- Frederick’s seeks bankruptcy after closing lingerie stores
- Union seeks labor board injunction over Wal-Mart store closings
- Camera prevalence approaches sci-fi realm