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Welcome to another edition of our Sponsor Atlas series, which focuses on startups and young pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that are in early stages or stealth mode. In the next edition of Sponsor Atlas: Discovering Biotech Startups, we’re looking at Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals, exploring the current affairs and future orientation of this emerging California - based stealth biotech startup. To accomplish this, we will give a business overview of their current operations, summarize their outsourcing needs, map out their development goals and decision-makers, and highlight their current strategies for capturing innovation. If you haven’t already read our other blogs on new biotech startups, be sure to check them out here.
Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals specializes in developing cancer drugs aiming at targeting and inhibiting mechanisms of metastasis and drug resistance. The company's main focus is providing drugs that promote pathways to treat recalcitrant cancers including pancreatic and liver cancer.
Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals does have a simple website with some information about their executive team, research strategy, and product pipeline, but overall we still had to do some digging on our own to get the real picture of their current business activities and on-going research efforts. The company was registered in California as a C-Corp on 10/13/2015. Their principal place of business, as noted on the business entity search, is found at 662 Encinitas Blvd, Ste 248, Encinitas, CA 92024, as well as being listed with the Pasadena Bio accelerator facility.
Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals is categorized under Medicinal Chemical/Botanical Products Manufacturers. Current estimates show the company has an annual revenue of $408,293 and employs a staff of approximately 6. On 9/20/2019, Avenzoar won a research grant for $212,201 from the National Cancer Institute to develop a new drug for the treatment of pancreatic cancer. According to the Sec Form D, shortly after the grant funding, Avenzoar raised another $525,144 from 4 investors on 10/31/2019. At this point in time their overall revenues are actually decent, and considering their recent half-million dollar seed of venture-backed capital and quarter-million dollar grant money, we are expecting to see a lot of business activities from them in the near future. Avenzoar has already received most of this money to further their research efforts, and with that amount of funding to work with, we believe they are in a great position to outsource a lot of their downstream development work.
Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals is a venture-backed company with some of their operations taking place within the Pasadena Bio Collaborative (PBC) Incubator, located in Pasadena, California. Pasadena Bio is a non-profit organization focused on economic development in Southern California. They encourage the growth of an innovative biotechnology industry by providing educational and training opportunities, as well as cost-effective incubator facilities with shared equipment and office space for start-up companies. Encouraging the growth and innovation of developing technologies, the PBC Wetlab incubator provides scientific entrepreneurs with the valuable resources, space and equipment they need to succeed while retaining 100% of their IP. Since opening its doors in 2004, PBC has experienced remarkable growth, expanding from a 500-square foot operation to over 12,600 square feet in 2020.
The information on the outsourcing needs of Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals is few and far between, but their recent seed funding and grant award are good signs they have a lot of capital to play around with for R&D, drug discovery, and even outsourcing early preclinical work. So far the company has done a decent job of staying under the radar, especially with their large amount of funding and investor backing. Avenzoar will use the seed and grant money to further their research in the field of cancer research and development of small molecule therapeutics for pancreatic cancer, with more details about that below. Even though the company is in start-up mode, we can definitely expect to see an increased need for outsourcing activities in the near future.
We think business development teams in the realms of pilot scale CMOs, preclinical CROs with experience in pancreatic cancer and cancerous animal model development, and bioanalytical service providers with expertise in small molecular dual inhibitors and cancer research should definitely contact Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals for potential outsourcing work in the near future.
Avenzoar’s Pipeline and R&D Focus
Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals is specializing in developing cancer drugs aiming at targeting and inhibiting mechanisms of metastasis and drug resistance. Avenzoar has 3 drugs in their pipeline so far. The lead drug is a dual inhibitor small molecule that prevents growth and metastasis of cancer cells, also known as AP-001 or Metavert, which is expected to be tested in pancreatic cancer patients sometime in 2020. Metavert is a small molecular dual inhibitor that targets two pro-cancer pathways at the same time. At some point in 2020, lung and liver cancer patients will be considered for clinical trials as the preclinical results show that Metavert affects lung and liver cancer cells, showing strong prevention of pancreatic cancer growth and metastasis with no significant toxicity. 
In a recent study, Metavert decreased expression of markers of Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition (EMT) and cancer stemness, the two driving forces of metastasis and drug resistance. Metavert prevented invasion of the cancer cell lines. Furthermore, Metavert sensitized PDAC cells and CTCs to chemotherapy drugs Gemcitabine and Paclitaxel. Treatment with Metavert significantly increased KPC mice survival by ~50% and sensitized the tumors to Gemcitabine. Distal metastasis was decreased from 29% in control KPC mice to 0% in Metavert treated KPC mice. Fibrosis, M2 macrophages and pro-cytokine levels in the blood were decreased by Metavert treatment without affecting the function of healthy organs. Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals has licensed Metavert and it has obtained the orphan drug status for it. The preclinical PK, PD, toxicity studies are ongoing and the drug is expected to be approved for clinical testing in 2020.
- Terrance Bruggeman - CEO of Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals, has served as Executive Chairman and as Chief Executive Officer of a number of life sciences including Diversa, Provasis Therapeutics which was sold to Boston Scientific, Somanta Pharmaceuticals reverse merger and IPO, and BioTork.
- Stephen Pandol, M.D. - Co-Founder, and Chief Medical Officer of Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals, is the Director of Basic and Translational Pancreas Research at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and Professor of Medicine, UCLA. He authored over 200 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. He is an international authority on pancreatic diseases and is a reviewer, editorial board member and editor of a number of journals.
- Mouad Edderkaoui, Ph.D. - Co-Founder and CSO of Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals, is a Research Scientist and Adjunct Associate Professor at UCLA. He authored over 30 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and he is a member of the editorial board and review committees of a number of journals and research organizations.
Around 80% of the estimated 56,770 people that were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019 will die within a year. Only 9% of patients survive past five years, making pancreatic cancer the fourth leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Chemotherapy, the standard treatment for pancreatic cancer, is costly and only delays death by an average of 8.5 months. As we’ve already mentioned, Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals is developing a new small molecule therapeutic, Metavert, that has been shown in early trials to inhibit metastasis and chemo-resistance signaling pathways. The low toxicity of the therapeutic and the potential to reverse immunodeficiency disorders caused by cancer could significantly improve prognosis of the disease.
Dr. Mouad Edderkaoui, Co-Founder and CSO at Avenzoar has led the Phase I studies of this Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) project to develop dosage levels and test the drug in combination with standard treatments in animal studies, to eventually inform the design of patient clinical trials in 2020.  Avenzoar also has numerous consultants advising and helping to guide their continuous research and product development efforts.
“Our strategy is based on developing small molecule therapeutics that simultaneously target multiple cancer promoting pathways to treat recalcitrant cancers including pancreatic and liver cancer with a focus on targeting metastasis and chemo-resistance pathways. In addition to the management team we have built a world class team of consultants and an advisory board that will work together to assure the success of Avenzoar’s drug development strategy,” said Dr. Stephen Pandol, Co-Founder and CMO of Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals.
Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals is definitely on track to have some major innovations in the biotech industry, and it’s difficult to say exactly when they will come out of stealth mode, but we’re thinking it should be within the next year, so be sure to keep them on your schedule and look out for our next edition in this series coming soon.
How can I find new biotech startups?
If you would like a simple solution for keeping an eye on drug sponsor companies, like Avenzoar Pharmaceuticals, without relying on a database and generic lists of leads each week, we at Zymewire are here to help. Reach out today, and stay tuned for the next instalment of the Sponsor Atlas: Discovering Biotech Startups. If you enjoy these articles, please feel free to give them a share through the social links below!