JP’s gentleman pharma

June 11, 2010
By

David Taber

Scientist runs drug research company from home

Health Connection

MOSS HILL—Treatments for cancer and macular degeneration are brewing right now in David Sherris’s Moss Hill living room.

A biochemist and 26-year veteran in the pharmaceutical industry, in 2005 Sherris ran across a group of molecular compounds that a company he was consulting for was not using. Sherris liked what he saw and decided to go solo, purchasing the compound and related research.

He calls the new drugs he is working on Palomids and he founded a new company to do that work—Paloma Pharmaceuticals, named after his wife.

Paloma is a “virtual” company—Sherris is the president, CEO and sole employee. It contracts its research and development work out to other companies and universities.

“This is the way of the future, in reality,” Sherris told the Gazette in a phone interview last week.

“It is very, very expensive to develop a drug,” Sherris said. But his operation is streamlined. He does not have to purchase or maintain lab equipment or hire permanent staff that he might not always have immediate work for. That means he was able to get the business off the ground with an initial investment of $8 million instead of the potential $20 million to $30 million it would take to found a traditional company.

“You get exactly who you need exactly when you need them, and they are already trained,” Sherris said, extolling the virtues of contract employees.

Purchasing the molecular technology he is working on outright instead of licensing it also helped him save money, he said.

And Sherris said he is confident he picked a winning technology to work on. Palomids block proteins in cells that are responsible for creating new blood vessels. The uncontrolled proliferation of blood vessels in the eyeball is the cause of macular degeneration. Palomid 529, aimed at confronting that vision-impairing disease, is now in phase one of human trials being conducted by Ophthalmic Consultants of Boston.

Sherris said Paloma will hang on to Palomid 529 through that round of human trials on the drug—a limited test with 10 to 20 participants aimed at determining that the drug is safe. He said Paloma would probably sell the new drug to a larger pharmaceutical company after that first round, when it will be time for significantly larger and more complicated trials.

Palomids also have potential as a treatment for cancer, Sherris said. Cancerous tumors rely on the creation of new blood vessels to feed them as they grow, so Palomids could essentially starve them.

While other companies are also pursuing “angiogenesis inhibitors” that block blood vessel growth, Palomids aim at a unique group of proteins—the “PI3K/Akt/mTOR pathway.” Palomids are a “first in class” drugs—that means it’s the only one that does what it does…It should work, technically, against all types of cancer, which is a nice thing,” Sherris said.

They might also be useful for treatment of arthritis, fibrotic diseases, epilepsy and neurodegenerative diseases, HIV/AIDS and some skin diseases, according to Paloma’s web site.

If all goes well, Sherris said, he hopes to open an office in JP in the next year, and to take his company public.

He is hesitant about the idea of opening a lab, though. “There really isn’t any reason to do that. I might open a small lab to use periodically…maybe,” he said.

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