AVID Radiopharmaceuticals, Inc.
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On the seventh floor of the University City Science Center, that nexus of knowledge way uptown on Market Street in Philadelphia, sits Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, a company with the intellectual property–and the funding–capable of making Alzheimer's screening as routine as a mammogram.
Now, let's be clear. We're talking the ability to see Alzheimer's disease long before any symptoms of memory loss or confusion even show up. That's the goal. And Dan Skovronsky, M.D., PhD., Founder and CEO of Avid, is convinced it will work. The company is a pioneer in the development of molecular imaging agents for Alzheimer's disease that could lead to earlier diagnosis and better evaluation of drugs designed to prevent or reverse the brain function that causes the disease. In fact, Avid is the first company to take this technology to Phase III (the final stage of drug development before applying for approval by the FDA). "Before this technology, the medical field had never seen the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease in living patients before, only in autopsy," notes Dr. Skovronsky.
With over 20 years of highly acclaimed experience in the field, along with multiple degrees from and research posts at the University of Pennsylvania, Skovronsky founded Avid Radiopharmaceuticals in 2004 in order to change the medical management of significant chronic human diseases.
In 2005 Avid presented its business plan to BioAdvance–an investor that funds startup life sciences companies in Southeastern Pennsylvania–and received its first funding of approximately $500,000 as well as interim incubator space. BioAdvance is part of a Pennsylvania initiative to accelerate the growth of life sciences in the commonwealth by transforming biomedical research into commercial opportunities. Since its inception, Avid has attracted approximately $69 million in venture financing, including an additional $300,000 from BioAdvance, from investors such as Lilly Ventures, Pfizer Strategic Investment Group, AllianceBernstein LP, RK Ventures, Safeguard Scientifics and Alta Partners
"Working in Philadelphia has a catalyzing effect on our work," finds Alan Carpenter, PhD., J.D. and Vice President of Business Development and Legal & Regulatory Affairs. The collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania is foremost in terms of the quality of its people. And naturally, the tax incentives of working in Pennsylvania, along with the ability to defer some R&D expenses, make their Philadelphia address more and more appealing.
Christopher J. Bunting, Vice President Marketing & Sales agrees, adding that Philadelphia is most attractive to new employees relocating to join Avid. Having moved here from London UK, Bunting enjoys the culture in Pennsylvania, finding it offers "a great family environment that's most welcoming, including the quality of education available for my children." all of which bodes well for Avid, as the company plans to increase staffing to complete the commercialization of their imaging agents.
Briefly, here's how it works: by imaging the living brain for evidence of pathology related to Alzheimer’s Disease, Avid’s technology may help give doctors increased confidence in making a definitive diagnosis–and providing the right treatment–at a number of stages of disease. For example, in a patient with possible symptoms of Alzheimer's, Avid imaging may determine if the symptoms are indeed Alzheimer's. More importantly, those who do not have the pathology, may have symptoms related to a condition that can be managed successfully in a very different way
In patients with only mild cognitive impairment, says Skovronsky, "we know that over half will get Alzheimer's. Identifying which patients will develop Alzheimer’s is challenging with current diagnostic tools, but combined with our approach, these patients might be identified, because they already have that pathology in the brain." The remainder may have some other diagnoses, such as depression, which could then be treated properly.
And during a screening of a patient with no symptoms at all, explains Skovronsky, "we can actually see pathology in 20 percent of normal-looking patients. This scan may be showing us the genesis of Alzheimer's, way before symptoms begin. This is the goal: screen for this disease, and start prevention treatment early."
Right now, Avid has multiple partnering arrangements with major pharmaceutical companies that use this technology in their clinical trials to evaluate the effect of new drugs against Alzheimer's disease.
In the meantime, the Avid team has taken a similar approach to developing the means to image pathology in Dementia with Lewy Bodies and Parkinson's disease and has a research project in diabetes mellitus. These agents have the potential to revolutionize early diagnosis and monitoring of disease.
Dr. Skovronsky recently received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2009 Award in the Emerging Company category in Greater Philadelphia." The Award recognizes outstanding entrepreneurs who are building and leading dynamic, growing businesses.
"It's incredibly humbling" finds Skovronsky. "I'm honored to lead a company with great potential to help identify and treat Alzheimer's disease earlier than we now can, and bring hope to the more than eight million patients who are expected to be living with this disease by 2030."
And when you're in the business of hope, it's great to know the foresight is 20/20.