Targeson brings noninvasive approach to early-stage drug discovery research
JILL BLACKFORD, Special to the Daily Transcript
Initially founded as a repository to house patents for contrast ultrasound imaging to be used in drug discovery research, Targeson Inc. reinvented itself at the end of last year as a company to develop, manufacture and sell products based on those patents.
"Our goal is to make sick people feel better," said Joshua Rychak, Ph.D., co-founder and vice president for research and development for Targeson. "There is so much really great science that's out there. During grad school, my project was a way to use tiny contrast agents to bind to, say, cancer or heart attack cells to label them so that they're detected by ultrasound. We were working on projects where the lab developed a gas-encapsulated microbubble that when injected into the bloodstream shows up brighter than surrounding areas."
That grad school research led to the patents that are now the basis of Targeson's products. While Rychak sees big market potential for using Targeson's molecular imaging agents in drug studies, he also sees it as a little premature to push molecular imaging as a diagnostic to the clinical side. As such, Targeson's current strategy is to work on the ground floor with researchers in the nonclinical, animal model market first. The goal is to convince clients such as Merck (NYSE: MRK) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) on the drug discovery side that Targeson's contrast agent technologies, including signature product TargestarTM-P, are a cheaper, faster and better option than methods being used currently.
"We are trying to show that researchers save money because they don't have to kill the mice and it doesn't take as long. There's also no radiation, so it's the safest imaging tool," Rychak said. "Yet the idea of molecular imaging, as opposed to histology, is really a pretty radical shift. There are obvious benefits and people are excited, but there's also a lot of inertia because people are used to pathology techniques -- some of which are 100 years old. It's very entrenched. While our imaging doesn't completely replace the old methods, it can make work go a lot faster and cheaper -- and ultimately will help bring these drugs to market more efficiently."
In December of 2009, Targeson relocated from its birthplace near the University of Virginia to San Diego. Rychak reports that the company made the move to this market because of San Diego's high concentration of medical science and research. He likes that Targeson's sales team can reach hundreds of potential customers within half a day's drive and believes that sort of concentration can't really be found anywhere else.
"We are working with sites all over the world, but it seems in San Diego we get more traction -- people here are more used to new technology and are more open-minded," Rychak said. "There's also really a sense of camaraderie where people are willing to let us in the door and talk to us. I don't think any other place would get this type of response."
Before attending law school, Craig Wendland worked as a biochemist in San Diego's flourishing biotechnology community. He graduated with honors from University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in molecular and cell biology, and then worked for pharmaceutical powerhouses Pharmingen, Inc. and Becton Dickinson.
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