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Former Traversa Exec Forms New Company to Develop Oligo-modification Tech

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This article has been updated to clarify details regarding Traversa Therapeutics' bankruptcy proceedings.

Having secured a key piece of intellectual property following a dispute with his former company, Traversa Therapeutics one-time director of chemistry has formed a new company called TriPhos Therapeutics to develop and license its core oligo-modification technology.

TriPhos has already inked a deal to distribute its technology for research purposes through ChemGenes, and founder Scott Petersen told Gene Silencing News that negotiations are underway with additional vendors.

Meanwhile, he is in discussions to put the technology in the hands of four unnamed drug developers, which will evaluate it for therapeutic uses through pilot studies. The companies would then have the option to follow up with a pre-negotiated exclusive license in their area of interest, he said.

TriPhos’ technology involves direct modification of an oligo's phosphate backbone in order to mask its negative charge and facilitate its transport through the cellular membrane, and it was initially developed by Petersen during his time as a researcher in the lab of University of California, San Diego, researcher and Traversa Co-founder Steven Dowdy.

After Traversa declared bankruptcy about a year ago (GSN 5/31/2012), Petersen began shopping the technology around, looking for a company interested in taking an exclusive license and hiring him to further its development.

However, during bankruptcy proceedings, the technology was to be sold to Traversa's former CSO. Petersen took legal action to prevent the sale, and the parties eventually settled the matter, with Petersen taking control of the technology and the US patent application covering it in exchange for $40,000 (GSN 9/6/2012).

With the founding of TriPhos, which holds the exclusive rights to US patent application No. 20110294869, Petersen has shifted his plans for the technology and now aims to license it only for certain applications.

“Because this is such a promiscuous technology, it can be used in LNA, antisense, miRNA, siRNA, [and] spherical RNA approaches,” he said. “I don’t think one company or one person could develop all those approaches in one lifetime.”

Still, he doesn’t plan to license off all the technology’s rights, and he is laying the groundwork to build TriPhos into a drug-development operation with an initial focus on RNAi-based treatments for antiviral diseases.

To that end, he has assembled a three-member scientific advisory board, which includes former Isis Pharmaceuticals VP of Oncology and Functional Genomics Nick Dean, who more recently founded antisense firm Excaliard Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Pfizer in 2011.

In addition to providing scientific guidance, the SAB is also helping Petersen find a CEO for TriPhos — a key step in securing the financing that will be necessary to establish a lab so that the firm can begin its own research efforts.

Petersen said he expects TriPhos will hire its CEO within the next few months.

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