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Imagine Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Secures Series A Financing Led by Forward Ventures


San Diego, CA – Apr 27, 2004
San Diego-Based Company Developing Drugs to Open the Blood-Brain Barrier of Cancerous Brain Tumors

Imagine Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a San Diego-based company focused on the development of small molecules that enable the delivery of cancer therapeutics to metastatic and primary brain tumors, today announced the company had secured a $3.7 million Series A financing. Forward Ventures, Domain Associates and RCT Bioventures West participated in the financing.

The Personal Journal section of today’s Wall St. Journal included Imagine Pharmaceuticals in a front-page article titled “New Treatments for Brain Cancer” that examined some of the difficulties inherent in treating brain cancer and featured some of the breakthroughs in care that are being developed.

Imagine Pharmaceuticals is based on more than 15 years of work by the renowned neurosurgeon Keith Black, M.D., in pharmacologically modulating the blood-brain barrier. Black is the scientific founder of the company. He directs the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he also serves as director of the division of neurosurgery.

The blood-brain barrier surrounds blood vessels in the brain and shields brain cells from toxins in the blood. However this creates problems in managing cancers in the brain because chemotherapy cannot pass through the barrier.

According to Black, 98 percent of potential therapeutics for brain disorders may not cross the blood-brain barrier in sufficient quantities to be effective. “Selectively increasing drug delivery to brain tumors should allow therapeutic levels of drug to reach cancer cells, enhancing our ability not only to treat tumors that originate in the brain but also tumors that spread to the brain from other areas, such as breast and lung cancer,” said Dr. Black.

Imagine Pharmaceuticals is focusing on tumor-targeted pharmacological modulation of the blood-brain barrier to get around the toxicity of chemotherapy for normal cells. The company is currently screening small molecules that can specifically activate the potassium ion channels located in brain tumors to enable medication to pass from the blood stream through to the tumor cells. Since potassium ion channels are over-expressed on brain tumor cells and tumor associated blood vessels compared to healthy tissue, this pathway enables doctors to target the tumors and minimizing uptake by normal cells. The access is enabled for a specific period of time and works for many different medications. Successful drug candidates would be administered in conjunction with standard chemotherapy for the type of brain tumor under treatment.

“Keith Black’s breakthrough work in understanding potassium ion channels allows us to get cancer treatments to brain tumors while minimally affecting healthy tissue,” said Ivor Royston, M.D., managing member of Forward Ventures and chairman of the board of Imagine Pharmaceuticals. “This technology has a huge potential to treat a common problem in cancer.”

James Merritt, M.D., the CEO of Imagine, has more than 20 years’ experience in drug development and has held senior positions at Introgen, Viagene, IDEC, and Upjohn. In addition to Royston, Black and Merritt, other board members include Eckard Weber, Domain Associates, and Fred Volinsky, RCT Bioventures.
About Forward Ventures

Forward Ventures (San Diego) is Southern California’s largest venture fund focused exclusively on the life sciences with 51 portfolio companies and nearly $500 million under management.
About Domain Associates

Domain Associates, L.L.C. is a life science focused venture capital management company formed in 1985 with offices in Princeton, N.J. and Laguna Niguel, CA.

Imagine Pharmaceuticals, Inc., James Merritt, M.D., 858-964-5034.