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Norak Biosciences Changes Name, Focus; Puts Transfluor GPCR Assay Tech Up For Sale


Research Triangle Park, NC-based Norak Biosciences said this week that it has changed its name to Xsira Pharmaceuticals to reflect its transition from a platform technology company to a product development company.

As part of the change, Norak is also selling all aspects of its business related to Transfluor, its flagship fluorescent assay technology for screening GPCR receptors.

“Norak was founded in 1999 with a two-pronged strategy — to scale up its Transfluor technology for licensing to third parties as a revenue generator, while simultaneously using Transfluor to discover its own drug pipeline,” Roger Blevins, president and CEO of Xsira said in a statement.

“Transfluor and our drug pipeline have evolved to the point where separation of these activities is now in the best interest of the company,” Blevins said. “As such, we are seeking to divest of our Transfluor business, and intend to utilize the proceeds to advance our drug pipeline, as well as to in-license later stage products with a strategic fit.”

Terry Willard, executive vice president of Xsira, this week told Inside Bioassays that the company doesn’t yet have a buyer for Transfluor, but that several companies are interested.

“We have done some early due diligence,” Willard said. “Now we have to identify a lead and get a transaction done, hopefully in the first quarter of this year.

Willard also said that there will likely be restructuring within the company as a result of the sale.

“Some of the company’s assets are devoted to support and marketing of Transfluor,” Willard said. “We would expect that these resources would either be transferred to the eventual buyer or that we would do some restructuring.”

Norak has been quite busy over the past year, and has entered or extended drug discovery agreements based on Transfluor with pharmaceutical companies such as BASF, Lundbeck, Roche, Merck, Purdue Pharma, Curis, and AstraZeneca.

Those companies are all potential buyers, but the list will likely also include companies that make screening instruments and sell reagents for high-throughput or high-content screening assays.

“We cast a very broad net, and have identified all types of companies as part of the process, some of which would be obvious, and some of which are not so obvious,” he added.

The basis of the Transfluor assay is the intracellular molecule arrestin, which when bounded to GPCRs triggers its deactivation following extracellular binding of a drug molecule. Consequently, by attaching a reporter molecule to arrestin, researchers can monitor its movement in the cell as an indirect indicator of GPCR activity.

According to Willard, Xsira will sell all aspects of the Transfluor business, including “relevant patents, know-how, and materials to continue with assay commercialization.”

GPCRs are one of the most widely studied cellular therapeutic targets. Agonists and antagonists of GPCRs find therapeutic benefit in conditions such as pain, asthma, peptic ulcers, and hypertension. Norak has said that more than 30 percent of the approximately 500 drugs on the market modulate GPCR activity, and that the 2002 market opportunity for GPCR assays in drug discovery was estimated at $260 million, and was growing at an annual rate of 15 percent.

Xsira will maintain a full non-exclusive license to the Transfluor technology, which it will use to continue to further its own drug discovery in the area of desensitization.

— BB


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