Life-science briefing: Monday, April 7, 2008

TODAY’S HEADLINES:

quark-pharma-logo-150px.gifQuark Pharma gets $27M for RNAi drugs – Fremont, Calif.-based Quark Pharmaceuticals, a biotech startup working on “RNA interference” drugs, raised $27 million in an eighth funding round. The company’s fundraising follows a failed attempt to go public last year, and reflects a somewhat smaller haul than the $30 million it had hoped to raise.

The company’s backers include investment vehicles of SBI Asset Management and SBI Investment, both subsidiaries of Tokyo-based SBI Holding. The investment cements Quark’s deep relationship with Japan; its previous investors include two other Tokyo-based investment partnerships, the Trans-Science Global Bio-Technology Fund and Asuka DBJ Investment LPS, and the company has long worked with several Japanese pharmaceutical companies as well.

Quark’s work in RNAi — the use of short RNA molecules to “silence” disease-related genes — has already produced two drug candidates that are in clinical trials. One is being tested in the eye condition known as age-related macular degeneration by Pfizer; Quark is testing the other as a way to prevent acute kidney industry.

Danny Zurr, Quark’s CEO, said the startup will use the funding to greatly expand  its clinical-trial program. By the second half of this year, the company plans to have its drug candidates in five different tests at Quark and Pfizer. We’ve written a fair bit about Quark and its colorful history over the past year or so.

targetrx-logo-150px.gifTargetRx takes in $9.6M for physician-prescribing data – TargetRx, a Horsham, Pa., startup that analyzes physician-prescribing behavior for drug companies, raised $9.6 million in a new funding round. Its backers include Quaker BioVentures, New Enterprise Associates and Domain Associates.

Target bills itself as a company capable of providing “unparalled insights” into the way doctors prescribe drugs — always a subject of great interest to pharmas of all stripes. In practice, Target appears to get its information by paying doctors to participate in online marketing programs held in a closed forum on its Web site.

The company claims that its methods provide useful predictive information about physician behavior. In certain respects, its approach isn’t all that different from Sermo, which has begun selling access to its online doctor forum to investors and pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer.