By Richard (Chip) Hay Jr, Director, Office of Corporate Relations, Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern University
Depression affects an estimated 19 million Americans, and for many of them, current treatments barely work. It’s difficult to think that a powerful treatment could be out there but never brought to market due to lack of funds or a flawed business plan. But that’s nearly what happened to Joseph Moskal’s work.
Moskal has worked for more than two decades to create molecular therapeutics for neuropsychiatric disorders. His research led to the development of a novel therapeutic, GLYX-13, for difficult-to-treat depression. The therapeutic targets brain receptors responsible for learning and memory, which is a very different approach from existing antidepressants. It’s fast acting—working in a matter of hours—and has no significant toxic side effects.
GLYX-13 has now completed Phase IIb clinical trials, but getting to that stage was not an easy journey. A research professor of biomedical engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering, Moskal has studied monoclonal antibodies and how they relate to learning and memory since he was a staff fellow at the National Institutes of Health in 1983 and worked years to complete promising research. However, he struggled with a good business plan to successfully take his discoveries to market. He founded Naurex, a neuropharmaceutical biotech startup, which was the fourth company to grow from his research. His three other companies never took off, but Moskal was willing to keep getting up to the plate.
The turning point for GLYX-13 came when Moskal met with Baxter representatives through the Baxter-Northwestern Alliance, which was formed five years ago and supports life science and engineering research and innovations. The alliance was created to research new therapeutics, biomedical and device engineering, biomaterials and drug-delivery technologies. All Northwestern faculty members were encouraged to submit proposals, and Moskal submitted his in 2009.
Committee members at Baxter reviewed his proposal and were excited about the project. Initially, they funded one of Moskal’s projects. Later on, Baxter Ventures stepped up as lead investor for Naurex’s Series B round. Naurex also found a resource in Baxter-related talent. When the company started in 2008, Bill Gantz, Baxter’s former president, joined as Executive Chairman of the board of directors, and Dr. Norbert Riedel, former corporate vice president and chief science and innovation officer at Baxter, joined Naurex as president and CEO in early 2014.
Since its inception, Naurex has raised $83 million. Among its investor base are well-known venture funds such as Adams Street Partners, Latterell Venture Partners and Savitr as well as strategic corporate investors Lundbeck, Takeda Ventures, and Shire.
Baxter’s involvement was a significant factor in getting Naurex to take off. After the initial clinical trials, study participants called Moskal to ask when the antidepressant would be available. This treatment is aimed at a population in high need for therapy that works. Assuming successful completion of clinical trials and regulatory approval, this drug has the potential to get to patients who can really benefit from it.
Watch and Listen
Developing a Novel Glutamatergic Antidepressant: The Story of GLYX-13
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