Life-science briefing: Thursday, April 3, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

mirna-tx-logo-150px.gifMirna Thera spins out of Asuragen with $3M – Mirna Therapeutics, a newly minted Austin, Tex., startup focused on “microRNA” (miRNA) drugs, spun out from its parent Asuragen with $3 million in seed capital. The new company is taking Asuragen’s miRNA intellectual property with it.

MicroRNAs, like small interfering RNAs (siRNAs, for those into the acronym soup here), are short stretches of nucleic acid that can silence the activity of particular genes. These miRNAs, however, are encoded in the human genome and appear to affect multiple genes at once by interfering with “master” regulatory genes. Several miRNAs have been linked to cancer, suggesting that measuring levels of miRNAs might yield early detection of tumors.

Asuragen will continue to explore miRNAs as possible diagnostic tools, while Mirna will look into developing particular miRNA molecules as cancer drugs. Mirna initially plans to target lung cancer, prostate cancer and acute myeloid leukemia. None of its drug candidates are ready for testing in humans yet.

coaxia-logo-150px.gifStroke-therapy startup CoAxia raises $12M –  Maple Grove, Minn.-based CoAxia, a device startup focused on treatment for clot-related strokes, raised $11.5 million as an extension of its third funding round. Its backers included existing investors Canaan Partners, Prism Venture Partners, Baird Venture Partners, Affinity Capital Management, Johnson and Johnson Development and SVB Capital Partners.

CoAxia is developing a catheter designed to increase the flow of oxygenated blood in the brains of stroke patients by restricting its flow to the lower extremities, thereby shunting additional blood into brain vessels that haven’t been blocked by a clot. The minimally invasive device is threaded into a central artery near the kidneys, where a doctor can inflate two balloons designed to block roughly 70 percent of the blood flow to the lower body. The device is currently in a late-stage clinical trial.