Profit for non-profit

SFBR launches for-profit drug company focused on women’s health concerns

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SAN ANTONIO—The Southwest Foundation for BioMedical Research (SFBR), a non-profit research facility based here, announced in May the spin-off of its Organic Chemistry Department as a private, for-profit business enterprise focused on women's health issues.

The new company, which will be known as Evestra Inc., will receive all of the department's assets, personnel and 30 years of experience in the discovery and synthesis of novel steroid compounds used in a wide range of female healthcare applications. Evestra will apply this expertise in its efforts to commercialize a pipeline of products in fertility control, hormone replacement therapy and oncology, says Dr. Ze'ev Shaked, former CEO and head of R&D at ILEX Oncology, who will serve as president and CEO of Evestra.

"From Evestra's standpoint, the spin-off is beneficial because it is not really a start-up," Shaked says. "We're really hitting the ground running and have everything in place, from a 5,000 square-foot, fully equipped facility, to people with know-how and good ideas."
Evestra's ability to develop and commercialize steroid-based pharmaceuticals will benefit SFBR, which will be the majority shareholder of Evestra. Evestra also is working on raising its first round of financing primarily from San Antonio-area investors, Shaked says.

Evestra's leading drug candidate, a reformulated oral contraceptive, involves seeking an accelerated approval from the FDA. Evestra also is working to develop novel progestin drugs for fertility control; reformulating a hormone replacement therapy with a superior safety profile; finding a new drug candidate for endometriosis and fibroids; and developing new drugs to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer.

"I believe it is very important for a small company to have a focus and concentrate in an area where we have a lot of know-how," Shaked says. "We have a rather bottom-line, efficient approach to product development and a short focus. We're also looking opportunistically into the structural features of steroids which have never been looked at before."

In addition to Shaked, Evestra's management team will include Dr. P.N. Rao, who served as chair of the Organic Chemistry Department at SFBR since 1977. Rao holds 17 patents in steroid hormone synthesis and immunoassay methodologies used to diagnose and treat reproductive disorders and various forms of cancer.

"The lifetime body of work he has created and the incredible breadth and depth of his knowledge are invaluable assets to Evestra," SFBR President John Kerr says.
Evestra's main challenge will be to harness its many ideas into effective drug pipelines, Shaked says.

"Sometimes, I get up in the morning and say we have too many ideas," he says. "I think this is not only a great opportunity for the people on the team, but to continue to do something good for San Antonio after the success of ILEX Oncology also is something I feel really good about. We've helped put San Antonio on the map, and hopefully, this will be another big success." DDN

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