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Company Profile: PorA Pharmaceuticals

In 2008, UVA Professor of Infectious Disease, Paul Hoffman, Ph.D. along with one of UVA’s most prolific inventors and two-time winner of the Innovator of the Year Award (1997, 2010), Professor of Chemistry and Pharmacology Tim Macdonald, Ph.D. submitted an invention disclosure to LVG. They had discovered a molecular compound that could target Clostridium difficile infection (C. diff) and its recurrence. After nearly ten years of further research and development, their compound known as Amixicile has become the basis for launching PorA Pharmaceuticals. The company aims to advance Amixicile toward becoming a marketable drug for the treatment of C. diff.

C. diff is a bacteria predominantly contracted in hospitals and healthcare facilities that causes gastrointestinal infections in humans. In 2015, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 14,000 deaths in the US associated with C. diff, resulting in more than $1 billion in excess medical costs. Current drug therapies available to treat C. diff are powerful broad-spectrum antibiotics that kill not only the infection but also the natural gut flora and probiotic bacteria which can leave patients susceptible to recurring infections. PorA’s lead compound, Amixicile, functions more selectively by inhibiting an essential enzyme found exclusively in anaerobic organisms, such as C. diff.

Throughout the development of Amixicile, LVG has pursued industry partners in the C. diff market to explore a licensing opportunity for the compound. Each discussion generated useful feedback for the scientists that helped guide their preclinical data collection studies. To execute those studies Hoffman and Macdonald sought translational research funding and earned a grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Working closely with Hoffman and Macdonald, LVG also helped facilitate the patenting of the compounds. The scientists have earned three US issued patents and two patents in Europe for the compounds.

While LVG continued to seek industry opportunities for the compound, Hoffman and Macdonald maximized all possible translational funding programs within the University ecosystem. The possibility of launching a new venture around Amixicile entered the conversation, and LVG engaged its network to identify leadership for the potential company that would become PorA Pharmaceuticals.

John McCray, an experienced entrepreneur in the biopharmaceutical industry and Chief Business Officer for another UVA startup, Cavion, expressed interest in the technology. He lent his expertise to the team and helped recruit Gary Cupit, the current CEO of PorA Pharmaceuticals. Cupit brings more than 40 years of leadership and operational experience in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries to the company.

The alignment of exceptional leadership, the composition of matter on the compound, and an attractive preclinical package were optimal elements to launch the new venture. Today, PorA Pharmaceuticals continues to pursue preclinical trials and is currently raising funds to execute a Phase 1 trial.