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Pitching Plenty to Many

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

Plexxikon Inc. thinks the drug industry's dismal rates of new drug discovery are due to the fact that people keep finding what are, essentially, the same old compounds. This start-up is building a library of deliberately small molecules, on the theory that they'll have a better chance of binding targets. Those that get close to an active site may then be modified to become better drugs. Plexxikon figures its lowest common denominator approach, enabled by crystallography, will let it patent around basic ways that compounds interact with important protein families. Its methods may help other firms develop successful compounds--but may also stake valuable turf for Plexxikon.

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Teasing Out Next-Generation Diabetes Drugs

Many start-ups are developing diabetes drugs based on known targets which could attract Big Pharma partners and get to the clinic quickly, while a few invest in novel compounds that are either riskier or address the field's smaller subsets. Among the former are Phenomix, Plexxikon, CareX and Prosidion; among the latter are DiaKine, and DiaMedica. In all cases, these companies are looking to partner with Big Pharma, which is aggressively pursuing small-molecule drugs for diabetes.

Teasing Out Next-Generation Diabetes Drugs

Many start-ups are developing diabetes drugs based on known targets which could attract Big Pharma partners and get to the clinic quickly, while a few invest in novel compounds that are either riskier or address the field's smaller subsets. Among the former are Phenomix, Plexxikon, CareX and Prosidion; among the latter are DiaKine, and DiaMedica. In all cases, these companies are looking to partner with Big Pharma, which is aggressively pursuing small-molecule drugs for diabetes.

Investing in Hard Times

VCs worried about depressed financial markets and demanding Big Pharma customers are being tough on almost all start-ups seeking funding-but no tougher than on their existing portfolio companies. For some, hard times are creating opportunities. The circumstances of companies that raised money in the past few years are impacting newer firms now. Even organizations that met their milestones have seen valuations plummet, and are struggling to get financing. The down market is making it more desirable and easier for VCs to invest in late-stage start-ups. In-licensing has been popular, but investors are increasingly seeking value-priced components to fill out existing firms or launch new ones. Investors haven't stopped doing early-stage deals, but they're looking for firms with advantages that can reduce risk or cost, or speed a company to market. Drugmakers that used to sign big-money deals are now demanding that start-ups prove their technologies' merits through short-term, inexpensive pilot programs. Some firms aren't so pressed by hard times. VCs are promising stellar founders lots of support and time to take big risks they bet will pay off handsomely.

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