Groundbreaking diabetes medication coming from N.C. company

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Intarcia CEO Kurt Graves holds up the ITCA 650 prototype before it is released.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Kurt Graves sat down in a chair on Wednesday morning with a sharp plaid suit, elegant tie and designer glasses fit for the chairman, president and CEO of a large therapeutics company. What most people couldn’t notice was the diabetes medication delivery system he had inserted in his body.

That’s the genius behind ITCA 650, a device that fights diabetes for patients on a daily basis. Graves oversees Intarcia Therapeutics, which announced the acquisition of Durham-based Phoundry Pharmaceuticals on Thursday morning.

Graves’ is just a placebo, but it’s an insert the size of a matchstick that can change the lives of diabetes patients all over the world. Why is North Carolina so important in the battle against diabetes? Because Phoundry is developing a pipeline of peptide drugs that will address diabetes and obesity to be deliverd by the Intarcia pump in the Research Triangle Park at the Hamner Institute.

“We’re thrilled to have not just the assets, but the people,” Graves said of the acquisition. “These guys are some of the best peptide discovery experts in the world. They have a long record of discovering drugs. … We’re thrilled to have that happen and stay down here in North Carolina.

“The plan isn’t to move them up to Boston (Intarcia’s base). The team wants to be here. As long as we keep producing innovative medicines it will keep growing.”

Phoundry was formerly under the umbrella of GlaxoSmithKline before leaving in January. The company then incorporated in February and got an assignment agreement for data, reagents, consumables and equipment for the company.

The move over to the Hamner Institute allowed Phoundry to open its doors on June 1. It also allowed the company to store 5.5 semi-trucks of equipment to continue research—specifically on diabetes and obesity for now.

GSK helped show them the way, but Intarcia is making the dream of going to market come true. Graves reached out in February before Phoundry met with board members in May. Paul Feldman, CEO and co-founder of Phoundry, said that the synergy between the two companies was so great that Phoundry needed to be acquired to grow further.

“The stars really aligned around this for us,” Feldman said. “So the fact that we rolled out of GSK and were able to reengage with Intarcia and get a deal with them, now we have basically all components. And it’s terrific.”

ITCA 650 is now in final Phase 3 studies and Intarcia plans to file for FDA approval midway through 2016. The launch date for the product is roughly scheduled for 2017, a year after FDA approval.

Intarcia CEO Kurt Graves (left) poses with Phoundry co-founder Paul Feldman (right) at the Hamner Institute.

Intarcia CEO Kurt Graves (left) poses with Phoundry co-founder Paul Feldman (right) at the Hamner Institute.

As for the actual size of the deal, Graves wouldn’t share specifics, but did mention that the deal is nearly 50/50 in terms of cash and stock. This all comes after selling 2 percent of the company for $300 million to raise enough funding to build ITCA 650.

Even with all the growth taking place, Intarcia plans to keep the company in RTP for research. With bases in California and Massachusetts, the company hopes to double its employee base in North Carolina over the next several years.

Feldman also noted how accommodating the Hamner Institute has been with plans for growth. Thanks to the workplace and the incubator environment, Intarcia has a permanent home in RTP with more jobs coming in the medical field.

Not only does the mini-pump guarantee treatment for patients on a daily basis over a year, but it’s a unique product like no other. Unlike other time-release drugs, ITCA 650 treats patients on a smooth delivery system without spikes and without any maintenance necessary.

“You should hear patients talk about it,” Graves said with a laugh. “This completely changes the mindset to ‘I’m controlled, I’m protected, I’m free and I’m not injecting every day.’ As long as their glucose is under control, this can change their life.”

With so many issues for diabetes patients who forget to take their medication, ITCA650 may be the solution. It also takes the stigma away from having a visible insulin pump, taking a pill or injecting a shot each morning to simply remind patients of their disease.

The beauty of it all? Peptides are delivered at body temperature, making the system a smooth one for patients. Surgery for the insert times have also been lowered exponentially for the product. Graves’ placebo surgery took just 30 seconds—a painless process that requires just one small incision.

“You really don’t even know it’s there,” Graves said. “You don’t feel it at all. But I figured if I’m going to ask millions of people to do it, I better know what it’s like.”

Equipped with a product that can potentially change the way diabetes and obesity is treated and plans for focusing on other diseases in the future, Intarcia is a fledgling company in Raleigh’s backyard. It’s the latest huge innovation to come out of RTP, but it might be one that truly saves the world for diabetes and obesity patients all over the world.