Alumni Highlight: Confluence & OxaluRx

In this blog post, we will discuss the success story of Confluence & OxaluRx and their journey to develop an oral therapy to treat genetic hyperoxaluria, a urinary condition.

From Drug Discovery to a Boutique CRO

Confluence Life Sciences, founded by Walter Smith, began in April 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri, as a drug discovery and research company. However, after Pfizer acquired Wyeth, Pfizer moved its research and development (R&D) operations to Boston, Massachusetts, which forced Confluence to seek other options. With the help of Biogenerator and Port, Confluence was able to retain talent and secured a lab in Biogenerator. Confluence quickly established a reputation as a high-quality boutique CRO with a larger staff than a typical VC firm. They took on revenue into drugvresearch and had large pharma clients such as Pfizer and Genetec.

Acleris Acquisition and the Path to Financial Stability

However, despite its early success, Confluence found itself cash-strapped in 2015-2016. That's when Acleris approached Confluence to build a molecule that was fit for purpose, and an acquisition deal followed in 2017. Confluence negotiated terms where if Acleris licensed or sold a product, Confluence would receive a portion of the revenue. This deal gave Confluence $20 million upfront, $100 million later, and royalties and transfer payments.

OxaluRx: Developing a Unique Treatment for a Rare Disease

Today, OxaluRx is the primary focus of Confluence, which is developing an oral therapy to treat genetic hyperoxaluria, a urinary condition. The company secured $6 million in financing and is generating GMP material GLP tox, Phase I, and Phase II clinical trial data. There is currently no approved SiRNA available for this rare disease, which costs around $500,000 a year to treat, so OxaluRx has a unique opportunity to provide a cheaper alternative.

Financing and Expansion

With the goal of rolling success into other funds, Confluence and OxaluRx have been seeking both traditional A approaches and early partnerships, and have been pursuing Chinese partners as well. They have also received funding from biotech accelerators, presentation venues, and Arch Angels.

OxaluRx's 2022 achievements include obtaining patents in the new company and expanding its team. They have also brought on a person in chemistry and manufacturing and added experts in tox and biomarkers in urine.

Lessons Learned: The Importance of Backing and Fundraising Experience

In retrospect, Confluence and OxaluRx learned the importance of having the backing of biotech organizations, such as Biogenerator and RiverVest. They also realized the importance of attracting a person who can call a principal at a VC, which led them to bring in an executive chair with fund-raising experience from San Diego in 2015.

The St. Louis-based company recognizes the difficulty of pharma startups, especially for a company with a unique focus on rare diseases such as OxaluRx. Nevertheless, they have managed to establish themselves in the industry, largely due to their unique approach to drug discovery and their partnership with Acleris.

Success in a Challenging Industry

Confluence and OxaluRx are excellent examples of how companies with innovative approaches and unique goals can find success even in a challenging industry. Their determination, willingness to adapt and dedication to improving the lives of those suffering from rare diseases continue to be a source of inspiration for others in the life sciences industry.

Alumni Highlight: Artio Medical & Euphrates Vascular

published February 15, 2023

Two successful companies, Artio Medical, and Euphrates Vascular have their roots in the entrepreneurial spirit and biochemistry background of Sean Morris. Morris started his career in the medical device industry through sales and eventually went on to become a serial entrepreneur. He is best known as the founder of Veniti, which was later acquired by Boston Scientific.

The Journey of Artio Medical and Euphrates Vascular

In 2018, Morris became the CEO of Artio Medical and continues to play a consultant and board role for Euphrates Vascular, formerly known as Pulse Therapeutics. The company had a pivot prior to becoming Euphrates Vascular and received continued support from OSF Ventures. Morris highlights the importance of networking but mentions that service providers are not always helpful in finding the right match for investors. He believes in building local ecosystems in areas such as St. Louis, Kansas City, and the surrounding areas to bring in capital and connect with the coasts.

Morris also recognizes the significance of successful individuals in helping the community become successful. He mentions the value of super angel groups and organizations such as InvestMidwest, RiverVest, and Biogenerator, in bringing local presence and capital. Morris believes that to be successful, one must communicate and be honest and responsible while tapping resources and aiming for the best possible milestones.

Veniti, Morris' first venture, was a success and sold to Boston Scientific, delivering a good return for investors. He learned from his experience and founded Artio Medical and Euphrates Vascular, which were created through a merger of Pulse Therapeutics and ICHOR Vascular. Morris met the founder, Rogers Ritter, through conversations with vascular surgeons and Ph.D. metallurgists, who helped him identify the unmet need for a better venous stent.

Euphrates Vascular develops medical devices that treat vascular occlusions related to vascular disease using the Magnetically-Enhanced Diffusion system. This system uses patented magnet-based technology to transport iron-oxide MED MicroBeads and clot-busting drugs at a much faster rate, enabling doctors to improve care for stroke and other diseases. In June 2021, the company raised $6 million in funding.

One of the biggest lessons Morris learned was the importance of focus. He mentions how his previous venture Veniti had multiple products, but only one of them reached an exit, wasting time and money on the others. He emphasizes the importance of scrutinizing every dollar raised and proving the market, which can be expensive. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Euphrates Vascular achieved FDA approval for the treatment of acute ischemic stroke in 2022 and became a stable company.

The Future

For 2023, Morris sees challenges and milestones ahead for Euphrates Vascular, including expanding its platform technology and solving other problems in the medical device industry. The company is in a good spot, and Morris has stepped down from his role as CEO to take on a new challenge.

Morris' background in biochemistry and experience in the medical device industry has enabled him to be a successful entrepreneur and contribute to the success of Artio Medical and Euphrates Vascular. His focus, communication skills, and determination have been key to his success and the success of his companies.