BY GREGORY ZELLER // Armed with a just-executed licensing agreement for a suite of anti-inflammatory drug therapies, two-year-old Traverse Biosciences is stepping up efforts to land the investors and strategic partners necessary for rapid product development.
The licensing agreement with the SUNY Research Foundation gives Traverse rights to compounds developed by Stony Brook University faculty members Lorne Golub and Francis Johnson and known as — science alert — polyenolic zinc-binding agents.
Their leading drug candidate, called TRB-N0224, is envisioned as the first FDA-approved prescription medication for the treatment of canine periodontal disease, which affects 80 percent of dogs over the age of 2.
Traverse’s drug would be administered at home, saving many pet owners repeated, and costly, trips to the vet. If successful, a human version would follow.
Traverse was founded by entrepreneur Joseph Scaduto with a $125,000 grant from Stony Brook’s Center for Biotechnology, where he spent more than a decade in a variety of roles, the last as one of the university’s first-ever Bio-entrepreneurs-in-Residence.
Scaduto said he spent months considering university research that was ripe for commercialization before settling on Golub and Johnson’s discoveries.
The researchers’ track record helped. Golub, a distinguished professor in SBU’s oral biology and pathology department, was the lead inventor of FDA-approved dental therapies Periostat and Oracea, now marketed by Swiss dermatological company Galderma.
Johnson, an SBU professor of chemistry and pharmacology, is also president of Stony Brook-based Chem-Master International, a circa-1994 startup that, among other achievements, has developed FDA-approved drugs for treating human periodontal disease and various skin conditions.
Beyond their deep resumes, Scaduto said, “The relationship that I cultivated with these two gentlemen has been very positive, one built on trust and commitment. That very positive working relationship helped enormously in my decision to focus on this technology, as much as the technology itself.”
From there, it was a simple “strategic decision” to push ahead on the veterinary front first, Scaduto said. To better understand the strategy, consider this: Prescription and over-the-counter pet medicines are a $17 billion market in the United States alone.
For now, Scaduto is Traverse Biosciences’ sole paid employee and the only member of its board of directors. While they have assumed co-founder status at Traverse, Golub and Johnson remain SBU faculty members, while Scaduto continues to consult with what he called “board observers,” including Peter Donnelly, director of SBU’s Office of Technology Licensing and Industry Relations.
Other board observers include Steve Winick, managing director of private equity firm Topspin Partners, and David Calone, the CEO of Jove Equity Partners.
The two venture firms have a combined $50,000 stake in Traverse, money matched by an Accelerate Long Island seed fund.
Traverse has also received two Phase 1 Small Business Technology Transfer Awards from the National Institutes of Health over the past nine months. One is in partnership with SBU’s School of Dental Medicine, the second with the North Shore-LIJ Health System’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. Together they total almost $430,000.
But soon, it’s off to market.
“We continue to cultivate relationships with both prospective investors and strategic partners,” Scaduto told Innovate LI. “The goal now is to advance our commercialization program.”