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S.A. pharmaceutical company gets new round of investment
June 9, 2011

By Walker Moskop, San Antonio Express-News

A new round of private investment means a San Antonio pharmaceutical company will continue working toward its goal of developing safer cancer treatments.

By issuing convertible notes to existing shareholders and a new investor, Azaya Therapeutics Inc. has raised $3.5 million to fund the testing of one cancer drug and the manufacturing of another. CEO Michael Dwyer said the funding should last through the end of 2012.

The money will be used in part to continue the Phase I study of ATI-1123, a cancer drug that recently demonstrated better-than-expected results in patients and had an acceptable safety profile during testing.

ATI-1123 was created using Azaya's proprietary drug delivery platform, which is a nanoparticle the size of a millionth of a millimeter that enters the bloodstream through an IV. The nanoparticle, which contains an active, toxic chemotherapy drug, circulates through the bloodstream and releases the active drug at a tumor site. Conventional chemotherapy treatments do not specifically target cancer cells, so they can damage healthy cells.

The toxicity levels of ATI-1123 are lower than one of the top-selling chemotherapy drugs, Taxotere, Dwyer said.

"We're trying to make chemotherapy safer and more effective," he said.

The drug's promising results in trials is an exciting development for an emerging company, said Ann Stevens, president of BioMed SA, which promotes San Antonio's health and bioscience sectors. "We look forward to following the company's progress as it moves along," she said.

Keith Orme, who began investing in Azaya six years ago, said it would be nice to get a positive return on his investment, but he was more intrigued by the opportunities for cancer treatment offered by Azaya's drug delivery platform. "That concept said to me: Boy, this could be a whole new future for people with cancer," he said.

Phase I testing of the drug began in December 2009 and is expected to be completed in August. Dwyer said the drug would undergo several Phase II studies, and it would be about five years before Azaya applies for FDA approval.

The new funds also will allow the company to continue manufacturing another chemotherapy drug, ATI-0918, a generic version of the widely sold drug, Doxil. Dwyer said Azaya currently is producing the drug just for clinical trials but will be filing for FDA approval in 2012 in hopes of introducing it to the market.

Including the recent investment, Azaya has raised $15 million since its inception in 2003. The company received a $1 million grant from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund in 2009.

Dwyer said Azaya is always working with limited resources, but fundraising has been especially challenging since the economic recession. "We've been able to do it, but it hasn't been easy," he said. "I've had a lot more meetings and had to go to a lot more contacts to find investors."

The company currently has six full-time employees and six part-time consultants.

The study of ATI-1123 is ongoing at the Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center in Dallas and the Cancer Therapy and Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.


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