October 31, 2019
For people with Type 1 diabetes, a life free from injections and 24/7 monitoring of their blood glucose levels may seem only a fantasy, but an Indianapolis-based biotech company believes relief could come in pill form. Toralgen Inc. is developing a drug delivery technology it says can take existing drugs that have to be injected and transform them into oral medications. The startup’s recent $1.9 million seed funding round is contributing to an active autumn in Indiana’s life sciences economy that produced a flurry of notable investments.
Founded in 2017, Toralgen is commercializing a nanopill technology that encapsulates existing drug molecules inside proprietary nanoparticles.
“Our technology protects the drugs through the stomach, then helps the body actually absorb the drugs without destroying them and get them into the bloodstream,” says Toralgen Chief Executive Officer Gerald Rea. “Then, it preferentially locates and is retained in the organs where it’s most needed; for diabetes, that’s the pancreas and liver. So [our technology] protects [the drug], improves the uptake into the body and preferentially locates to the organs where it’s most needed.”
Toralgen’s recent closure of its seed funding round—which included investments from Indiana-based Elevate Ventures and VisionTech Angels—will accelerate its targeted delivery technology. The startup’s lead platform includes two candidates in preclinical testing for oral delivery of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes agents.
“Autoimmune diseases are a big category on the horizon, and Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease. We have some very interesting data there, and hopefully, a partnership we’re going to share soon,” says Rea. “Some of the [items] with Type 1 diabetes—which we can’t share publicly yet—are really, really exciting.”
Toralgen is also targeting pancreatic cancer, a disease that Rea describes as “one of the scariest things out there right now.”
“By the time you know you have it, you basically have to say your goodbyes; it’s an absolutely horrible disease,” says Rea. “The mortality rates are incredibly nerve-racking; even now, it’s around 87 percent for certain kinds of pancreatic cancer. Being able to detect that early and treat it more effectively would be absolutely amazing and save a lot of lives, even if it was only five to 10 percent more effective.”
The technology is based on discoveries the startup licensed from Fahmy Labs at Yale University, led by Dr. Tarek Fahmy. Through a series of connections, Toralgen came to be located in Indianapolis under Rea’s leadership. A Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology alumnus, Rea has led high-tech startups in the biotech and biomedical sectors for two decades and says, “Toralgen has a lot more promise to help people and create value than anything else I’ve ever seen.”
Other promising technologies in Indiana announced significant funding this fall within a matter of days of each other. Securing $5 million in growth capital, Indianapolis-based Sexton Biotechnologies became the first company to spin out of Cook Regentec, also based in Indy at the 16 Tech Innovation District. Sexton Biotechnologies, which is commercializing cell and gene therapy bioproduction tools, attracted Hoosier-based funding from Cook Regentec and BioCrossroads, Indiana’s life sciences initiative.
“The Sexton Biotechnologies story achieves several objectives—a large company spin-out, not only staying in Indiana, but doing work in our newest innovation district, and performing cutting-edge work that has strong market potential,” says BioCrossroads President and Chief Executive Officer Patricia Martin.
MBX Biosciences, based in Carmel, also had a $2.5 million initial financing round that included $500,000 from the Indiana University Philanthropic Venture Fund, Twilight Venture Partners II and the BioCrossroads-managed Indiana Seed Fund III. The startup is developing treatments for rare endocrine disorders and is co-founded by one of the state’s life sciences superstars, Dr. Richard DiMarchi, IU Linda & Jack Gill chair in biomolecular science.
Toralgen characterizes its seed funding as “a huge milestone” that will lead to the next phase of development. Each startup shares a similar sentiment about their financial stepping stones—marking steady progression toward a common goal to, ultimately, deliver better treatments for patients.