Local News

Five Former Glaxo Executives Team Up To Jumpstart Drug Discovery Firm

Posted May 1, 2006 7:28 a.m. EDT

— Five former executives at Glaxo are joining forces to re-launch a Cary-based drug discovery company.

Led by Steve Peterson who takes over as chief executive officer, the company has changed its name to

Trana Discovery

from Neos Discovery. The firm has also secured an unnamed investor who is providing an undisclosed amount of financing.

Trana Discovery, which is attempting to commercialize proprietary and patented drug discovery technology developed at North Carolina State University, announced its re-launch Thursday.

The other former Glaxo executives, all of whom have known each other for more than 20 years, are: Dan Mitchell (chief science officer), Michael Gallucci (chief financial officer), Ron Stanton (vice president of business development) and Ed Gallagher (VP of intellectual property).

Crucial to the firm's re-launch was securing an investor, and the new managers are helping out as well by deferring compensation. "We do have a single angel investor who has been kind enough to give us enough money to go for the next year," Mitchell said. He declined to disclose the investor or the amount of the investment.

The money will be used in part to develop assays for new drugs to treat HIV as well as other infectious diseases. Mitchell said Trana also wants to target biohazards, such as drug-resistant anthrax and third-world maladies malaria and tuberculosis - "all those bugs that have become resistant to current medicines," he said.

Winnell Newman and Richard Guenther, the biochemistry team who founded the firm in 2000, remain as president and chief technical officer respectively.

Newman and Mitchell, acting in a consulting role, met in 2005. "She was looking for some business expertise in area of infectious diseases," Mitchell said. "My background is in drug development for HIV, influenza and general infections and she asked me to join the company in the fall and form a management team."

Peterson knew where to go to talent - his former Glaxo colleagues.

"I cherry picked ones I knew were available," Peterson said, noting that Glaxo had fewer than 200 employees at the time the five worked together.

Over his career, Peterson has helped take 16 drugs - many related to infectious diseases - to market. Mitchell led competitive research efforts at Glaxo and, later, at GlaxoWellcome and GlaxoSmithKline. In addition to his Glaxo career, Stanton was chief executive officer at LipoScience. Gallucci was involved in finance at Glaxo and later merged companies for 27 years. Gallagher has more than 20 years of experience in product development.

With new funding and management in place, the company plans further proof of concept work, more assay development and laboratory setup. Trana has received National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation grants in the past. The company said it planned to seek additional grants.

Trana has developed testing technology that could lead to drug compounds capable of fighting drug-resistant infectious diseases. The application attacks pathogens through the inhibition of the transfer ribonucleic acid, or tRNA.

The new name is a play off tRNA.

The company described the assay technology this way: "As infectious organisms are selected as targets, a unique probe is employed in a high-throughput screening process to identify compounds that possess tRNA inhibitory activity. By inhibiting the role of tRNA and crippling protein assembly, protein synthesis cannot proceed, thus stopping pathogen growth and the spread of infection." According to Mitchell, Trana has the potential to have a tremendous impact on drug development.

"The key point is this is an opportunity to clear entire new class of antibiotics and antivirals because viruses and bacteria all learn how to be resistant to the actions of older antibiotics," he said. "The technology NCSU developed and that Winnell and Richard bringing forward explored whole new way of interfering with infections spreading.

"tRNA is crucial to all living cells and including many viruses to produce new proteins. If a bug can't produce new proteins it can't grow." An initial target is HIV. Said Mitchell: "We are looking right now to validate our lead assay externally. It's for HIV. HIV uses tRNA to create new proteins."

The company said it already is working with pharmaceutical companies, government agencies, and academic institutions to utilize the screening technology on their clients' drug compound libraries.