Obesity drug developer hits $30K crowdfunding goal by slim margin

October 13 2015


Original Article

Symmetry Therapeutics achieved its goal of raising $30,000 — with just $133 to spare — via a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the Philadelphia-based startup’s research into new therapies to treat obesity.

The narrow margin by which the company hit its goal didn’t bother co-founder and CEO Jon Brestoff Parker.

“Our campaign was less about money and more about engagement,” Parker said.

“This kind of engagement is new and keeps us accountable and transparent to our supporters and stakeholders, including the patients we aim to help,” he continued. “Symmetry’s values of community engagement, accountability, and transparency stand in stark contrast from the biotech companies that have recently received media attention for hiking drug prices overnight to prioritize profits over patients.”

Parker, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who is currently pursuing a medical degree at the same school, said every dollar of the $30,133 the company took in from its 131 backers will be used for research — and none of the funds will be used to pay salaries or wages.

Symmetry was founded by Parker, who earned a doctorate degree in molecular biology at Penn; Milad Alucozai, a former Purdue University biomedical engineering researcher who is serving as the company’s chief operating officer; and Thomas H. Reynolds, an associate professor of health and exercise sciences at Skidmore College in New York.

The company is attempting to commercialize patented research developed by Parker and Reynolds. The company’s lead compound, SYM401, was tested in mice with pre-existing obesity. In those tests, the mice lost 20 percent of their body weight and about 50 percent of their fat mass in the span of one month.

The company is studying the compound to determine exactly how it works. He said they believe the compound decreases desired food intake, and may promote changes in skeletal muscle associated with increased fat burning.

Symmetry’s short-term goals are expanding its pre-clinical testing of SYM401, then advancing the compound into human clinical trials within a few years.

Parker said they hope to continue to attract people who are interested in supporting its work towards a new treatment against obesity. “We will continue our R&D efforts as far as our supporters will enable us,” he said.

Biomeme and, more recently, BioBots both used crowdfunding web sites to raise capital to help fund research and development of their products.

BioBots has developed a desktop 3-dimensional bioprinter that builds 3-dimensional living tissues out of human cells. Biomeme markets a small,mobile device — called a PCR thermocycler — that attaches to an iPhone to allow users to conduct DNA analysis tests in real time.

The Food and Drug Administration is keeping an eye on crowdfunding in the life sciences industry. The agency prohibits companies from using crowdfunding to sell or take pre-orders of medical devices that have not received FDA clearance. At this point, neither Biomeme, BioBots nor Symmetry have not violated that rule with their campaigns.

Asked about any lessons he learned from the experience, Parker said, “We knew this crowdfunding campaign would be an uphill battle, but our mission to engage with the community inspired us to climb that hill anyway. It’s time for biotech companies to change their relationships with the people they aim to serve, and I hope our success with crowdfunding sets an example for other biotech start-ups to follow in our footsteps.”

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