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About a year ago, Jack Fernandes founded a startup in San Diego, Regenica Biosciences, which he’s calling the world’s first medical defense company.
“We’re a pharma company, but predicated on developing advanced measures to counter bio-terrorism,” Fernandes explained. “We’re focused on prevention and detection.”
The company’s lead compound, known as REG-001, is an antidote designed to protect against exposure to various types of nerve agents, including the one used against the Syrian people in 2018, Fernandes says.
“Recently the government and FDA have been asking for people to innovate in this space,” Fernandes said. “It’s been pretty neglected. There’s only a handful of companies in the space.”
REG-001 is still in the preclinical stage. Fernandes says the company is testing it in animals, which has to be done to a higher standard than usual.
“We don’t have any way to test the efficacy on humans,” Fernandes said. “It’s never ethical to introduce Sarin, for example, to a human population.”
The goal for REG-001 is that it’s able to cross the blood-brain barrier, a thin membrane that acts as a barrier between the blood and the brain. That takes a “very precisely engineered drug,” says Fernandes.
“Sarin usually kills you through respiratory failure,” he explained. “With the current antidote, if you’re exposed to Sarin you might not die, because it blocks the peripheral effects. But because it doesn’t get to the brain, if you survive you’re going to have serious brain damage.”
“That’s what we’re targeting,” Fernandes continued. “An antidote that gets into the brain quickly and effectively, not just to stop tremors and seizures, but also to get to the source in a neuroprotective way.”
While Regenica is focused first on protecting military personnel, Fernandes sees a secondary market in the civilian world, among people poisoned by pesticides.
“Most of the nerve agents we know about belong to a broad class known as organophosphates,” Fernandes said. “What I think is really interesting is the most common form of poisoning in the world is through pesticide exposure, which is our second indication we’re going to go for.”
Fernandes says there are some 300,000 deaths yearly from pesticide exposure in Southeast Asia.
“If there is an antidote, it would make sense to provide that as a protectionary measure, and make sure every agricultural firm working with chemicals has the antidote in place to help the working man,” he said.
Among the scientists working with Regenica are Dr. K. Barry Sharpless and Dr. Palmer Taylor, both listed as “scientific founders” on the company’s website.
Sharpless is the 2002 Nobel Laureate in chemistry, working with the Scripps Research Institute. Taylor has held a faculty position at UC San Diego in the School of Medicine since 1971, and was the founding dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
At just 24 years old, Fernandes is CEO of Regenica as well as being the founder. He has a bachelor’s degree from Claremont Mckenna College in Claremont, California, and a law degree from UCLA, with a specialization in mergers and acquisitions.
While in law school he worked for a hedge fund in Irvine, California, and has also worked for several pharmaceutical companies in intellectual property, including Kite Pharma, Gilead Sciences, and Innovus Pharma, based in San Diego.
“I was able to see some of the cutting edge things they were doing and start formulating my own ideas,” Fernandes said.
Regenica is currently in a Series A round of fundraising with private investors, according to Fernandes.
“We have some high net worth backers to get things off the ground, in addition to government grants that have financed pre-development,” he said.
Fernandes said the beginning studies and synthesis of REG-001 by Drs. Sharpless and Palmer were financed through the National Institutes of Health.
Fernandes declined to say how much capital he’s trying to raise in his first serious appeal for private equity. The goal is FDA approval of REG-001, which Fernandes hopes to have by 2023.
“Because we’re meeting with investors right now we’re keeping the amount close to the vest,” he said. “We’re trying to raise enough to gain approval of the compound. We also have our eyes on other drugs we think are very promising to treat other things.”
May 31, 2019 at 12:41AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs