Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Three CED Members Win SEBIO Awards - Triangle cleans up at SEBIO

Triangle life-science companies won 4 of the 5 major awards at SEBIO last week. The SEBIO Leadership Award was presented to Jeff Clark, founder of Aurora Funds. Argos Therapeutics took home the SEBIO Deal of the Year Award in the category of Venture Capital Transaction. Vascular Pharmaceuticals won in two categories for SEBIO Deal of the Year: Strategic Investment and Initial Funding. 

The CED Team caught up with each of the companies, and with Clark, to get their thoughts on winning these prestigious awards and on the life science industry in the Research Triangle. Interviews follow.

Our Interview with Jeff Clark, founder of Aurora Funds:

What does winning this award mean to you?

It is always an honor to receive an award from a prestigious organization, but it becomes special when the recognition comes from your colleagues and your friends. I was touched and honored – it is a very nice recognition.

What’s the current state of entrepreneurship in the Triangle, with attention to the life sciences?

Clark: I’ve been plugged in here (RTP) since we started Aurora in 1994. The Triangle is widely recognized as one of the top spots to grow and build healthcare companies, especially in biotechnology, clinical research organizations and a growing presence in medical devices and diagnostics.

We’ve had several successes and we have several companies that are still privately held that will have successful exits in the next 2-4 years.

Any challenges?

Clark: Funding is without question, tight right now – it can be discouraging to put money together. That said, the best companies will find a path forward. This is what innovation is about – you have to find some way, some pocket, that will fund the next phase of development.

I am aware of a lot of companies where people are pulling together funding, and are making very solid progress.

It’s our understanding that you are also an investor in Argos, a fellow SEBIO award winner. Tell us a bit more about your involvement – we imagine it is a high honor to see the company win as well.

Clark: I was the original lead investor in Argos – back in 1997-1998. I’ve been involved for almost 15 years, we’re now into Phase 3 Clinical Trials, and we’ll know the results of the trials in two and a half or three years. If things go well, we have the opportunity to dramatically impact the course of kidney cancer. We’ll be able to extend survivorship for more than a year in intermediate cases, which would be a huge accomplishment.

You’ve also served as the Chair of CED’s Board of Directors. Can you comment on the growth of the organization and the current state of the organization?

Clark: CED has been the primary resource for promoting entrepreneurship in the Triangle for the last 25 years, and continues to get better each year. I think CED is strong – is doing its best work today that it has ever done.

Our Interview With Jeff Abbey, CEO of Argos Therapeutics, Inc. 

What does this winning this award mean to you / to Argos?

Abbey: Winning this award is an indication of the hard work the employees of Argos Therapeutics have done to advance our fully personalized immunotherapy for metastatic renal cell carcinoma.

The recognition this award provides will help bring AGS-003 to market for the thousands of advanced kidney cancer patients in the US each year. 

The award was given to celebrate two successful financing rounds – one in May and one in September – care to comment on how the company will deploy those funds?

Abbey: These funds will be used to fund our Phase 3 ADAPT study in patients with newly diagnosed, metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC).

What comes next for Argos – what news will we hear from the company in the next 3-6 months?

Abbey: We expect the following activities to occur within the next 6 months:
o   Enrollment of the first patient in our Phase 3 ADAPT study before the end of this year
o   Initiation of a Phase 2 clinical trial for AGS-003 in earlier stage RCC patients
o   Initiation of a Phase 2 clinical trial in multiple solid tumors  
o   Partnering is likely for a Phase 1b/2 trial for AGS-009 (lupus)

Can you comment on the importance of the Triangle as a hub for life science entrepreneurs? On your involvement with CED?

Abbey: There are more than 80 biotechnology and life sciences companies located in RTP, from start-ups to large companies, that are thriving due to the RTPs incubator spaces, highly networked scientific working groups, excellent universities, and venture capital firms that invest in local companies.

Argos has been a strong supporter and member of CED since the founding of the company.  Argos owes a good deal of its success to the great work CED has done in helping to provide a rich and nourishing environment for entrepreneurial life science and other technology companies.  

Our Interview with Richard J. Shea, CEO of Vascular Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

What does this winning this award mean to you / to Vascular Pharmaceuticals?  

Shea: Winning the Southeast BIO Early Stage Company competition in 2010 helped to significantly raise our profile among investors.  Receiving this recognition two years later is extremely gratifying.  

The awards were given to celebrate the successful raise of a $16M series A round, and a partnering deal with Janssen. Can you comment on these deals – how will the money be used, what does the partnering agreement look like, etc.? 

Shea: We are excited to bring together a hybrid financing, including our Series A investors Intersouth Partners and MPM Capital, as well as our agreement with Janssen Biotech, to advance our program in diabetic nephropathy through Phase II.   

Can you comment on the importance of the Triangle as a hub for life science entrepreneurs? On your involvement with CED?

Shea: The Triangle life science community is close knit and CED does a terrific job of bringing people together to form a critical support network for entrepreneurs.

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