Local biotech startup receives $200,000 investment

Mar 13, 2014

Local biotech startup Animal Health Specialties has announced it is receiving an investment of more than $200,000 from Columbia-based investment group Centennial Investors.

“We believe that the team at Animal Health Specialties are very talented scientists, and we are very excited to be in business with this team,” said Greg Wolff, team leader of Centennial Investors.

Wolff announced his group would be putting more than $200,000 into the biotech startup.  He says the investment made sense because the Animal Health Specialties team is talented.

“In this case, the management team is very strong scientifically - some of the best scientists you could say in the world [are] with this company, and we think we can deliver some business mentoring, which some might say would be a weakness of the management team,” Wolff said.  “So together we’re going to make a pretty good team.”

Though Centennial has invested in at least one other biotech company, Wolff says the industry is new to them.

“This is kind of a new thing for us. We invest in several different kinds of businesses, but biotechnology - I would say - is relatively new for us,” Wolff said. “We’re really excited about it.”

The team at Animal Health Specialties is excited too.  Dr. Kenneth Gruber founded the startup.

“The goal of the company is to develop drugs - a drug - for what’s called cancer cachexia,” Gruber said. “When you have cachexia or when you have cancer rather, there is an increase in metabolic rate that essentially burns off your lean body mass.”

Forms of cachexia can also appear in several diseases, including influenza.  Gruber says the drug that is being developed would hopefully slow down the metabolic rate, effectively stopping cachexia.  The same compound used to stop cachexia has also been shown to kill bacteria, which Gruber says may allow them to develop a drug that ends the need for antibiotics use in production animals.

“Our kind of compound breaks down very, very quickly in the environment,” Gruber said.

That is a stark difference to antibiotics, which generally stick around and slow the process of harvesting.

“There has to be, in animals, a hold period from their last dose of antibiotics before they are harvested,” Gruber said. “If our compound breaks down that quickly in the body and is eliminated very easily, we could reduce that 28-day hold period to maybe two days.”

Gruber says the company hopes to start clinical trials next month and have a product to market next year if testing goes well.