Specialising in neurodegenerative diseases, Ankar Pharma is the Spanish / Filipino biotech startup that has a “passion for healing”. Ankar Pharma is a spin-off from the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas – CSIC (High Council of Scientific Research), which is Spain’s largest public institution dedication to research and the third largest in Europe. KITE Invest spoke with Michael de José Belzunce the CEO of the biotech startup.
KITE Invest: Who is Ankar Pharma? What was the catalyst behind Ankar Pharma’s 2014 launch?
Michael de José Belzunce: Ankar Pharma is a biotech start-up company that identifies promising patented solutions, develops them through the preclinical stage, and up to the first stages of clinical trials in order to accelerate market introduction, making them interesting for Pharma companies to license. We are able to speed up these stages in a more efficient way than established Pharma companies.
KITE: Please shed light on the relationship between Ankar Pharma and the CSIC.
MdJB: CSIC is a Public Research & Development Institution, focused and specialized in basic development. It builds very promising patented solutions but does not have the mission or resources to bring these assets to market. By allowing and promoting the spin off, Ankar Pharma, CSIC is exploring if this type of initiative can be an additional source of income complementary to the traditional one, which just licenses them directly to Pharma companies in the initial stage. In many cases, promising molecules lose their value because corporations do not get interested enough to invest into preclinical and clinical stages. CSIC has given Ankar Pharma complete and exclusive rights to develop and market the AP-1 molecule, and will have a preferential right to be a supplier –in competitive conditions- for further research studies that the molecule would need.
KITE: What long-term goals and competitive advantages does Ankar Pharma have as a result of its relationship with CSIC?
MdJB: CSIC one of the most prestigious investigation institutions in Europe and has more than 1.000 scientists in different areas, and presents hundreds of patents every year. As a non-profit organization, these patents are available at very competitive prices. Ankar Pharma scientists remain as CSIC research investigators, which allows them to have a deep and inside knowledge of the patents that exist or are being developed. This is a competitive advantage, which few companies have. Furthermore, working with CSIC allows Ankar to apply for public grants together with CSIC, which benefits both the company and the know-how within CSIC.
KITE: Ankar Pharma’s aim is to bridge the gap between preclinical discovery trials and the first phase of clinical development of AP-1, a drug that targets Multiple Sclerosis. To which, Ankar Pharma has the patented rights of the AP-1 molecule. Please discuss AP-1, the patent, and specifically how do these factors make Ankar Pharma stand apart from others?
MdJB: AP-1 is a small molecule that can be administered orally and produces three important effects in multiple sclerosis models; it decreases inflammation, protects oligodendrocytes and increases the production of new myelin. This compound is protected by a solid patent application that covers AP-1 and many related compounds together with their uses as human drugs for the treatment of many neurodegenerative diseases. It is a solid patent granted in Spain and in different international phases. All these facts make Ankar Pharma a great opportunity in the multiple sclerosis field. AP-1 recapitulates all the requirements to be a unique disease-modifying drug: small molecule, oral administration, anti-inflammatory profile, neuroprotectant and remyelinizating agent. In animal models, our molecule has proven same and better effective performance than found with the market leader (Fingolimod), and additionally Fingolimod has no neuroprotection or remyelinization effect. Furthermore, AP-1 is a small molecule, with lower production costs and can be administered orally (vs. intravenous like many future competitors).
KITE: The preclinical discovery phase lasts between 6 to 8 years and the first phase is 1.5 years. To this point what is Ankar Pharma’s business model and how will it account for the time lapse?
MdJB: Our business model consists in developing patents up to IMD status in a cost effective way and in less than three years. Reaching this point, we will either license the molecule or decide to advance one more step (into the first phase of clinical trial) and license it with a higher value. The resulting profit will be reinvested to restart the process with another patented solution, as well as paying dividends to shareholders.
KITE: AP-1 is also a potential solution to Alzheimers and diabetes. To what extent is Ankar Pharma involved with these diseases?
MdJB: Our molecule has proven interesting therapeutic properties to other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer and retinitis pigmentosa. We are collaborating with other biotech companies to investigate further into these possibilities. Although our focus with AP-1 is in multiple sclerosis where studies are much more advanced, the potential use of this molecule for other diseases reduces the risk of the investment and increases the future value of our molecule.
KITE: With the possibility of partnering with other biotech companies, does Ankar Pharma view itself having an international presence in the future?
MdJB: We are deeply convinced that alliances can speed up timelines and enrich our investigations. We are intentionally seeking our international partners that would make this possible. Our shareholders already are international in our present stage.
KITE: Ankar Pharma’s value pre-money is 2.5mil€ and the objective for the startup’s first round of investment is 2mil€ in order to finish pre-clinical stages and reach IMD status. In Ankar Pharma’s estimation why is the company an attractive investment? What is the Return On Investment offered?
MdJB: Ankar Pharma’s intrinsic value (calculated with Net present value methods adjusted by risk) is even in our present stage higher than 20mil€. An investor who covers the 2mil€ we need to finish preclinical stage can expect to license the molecule at 5 to 10 times the initial investment.
KITE: What is Ankar Pharma’s current funding status and projected targets for this year?
MdJB: Time is our main challenge. Therefore we are prepared to accept partial equity payments (minimum 500K€) and continue to increase our investments while the rest of the capital needed arrives. We expect to cover 50% of our capital needs by December 2015.