Innova Memphis Inc. Makes First Investment In arGentis Pharmaceuticals

Last week, Memphis got another step closer to becoming a national center of excellence in the biosciences. Innova Memphis Inc, the early-stage investment fund created by Memphis Bioworks Foundation, made its first investment. After months of diligently going through proposals from startup companies in a variety of areas, Innova chose to invest in arGentis Pharmaceuticals LLC, a specialty pharmaceutical company based here in Memphis.

Innova was created to fund Memphis companies with outstanding Intellectual Property and to help them become commercially successful. I believe the decision to invest in arGentis is a very good one for three reasons: arGentis has very strong intellectual properties; the company is locally owned and operated; and it licensed its intellectual property from local institutions.

arGentis has a strong strategic focus on addressing a critical need with its Dry Eye Syndrome (DES) product. This is a billion dollar market with only one major product on the market today. arGentis could take a strong leadership position in that market, either by itself or by partnering with a larger ophthalmic company.

There are two unique therapies that arGentis will use to treat DES; one treats menopausal women, and the other treats men and younger women. What makes these therapies so different is the method of delivery. The treatments are applied as a cream or gel to the outer upper and lower eyelids for transdermal delivery of the active pharmaceutical ingredient to the affected glands of the eye.

arGentis’ treatment for systemic sclerosis (SSc), will help treat a life-threatening autoimmune disease. The median survival from the time of diagnosis is only 11 years. SSc results from the patient’s immune system attacking its own type 1 collagen, leaving a thick build up of collagen on the skin and internal organs, eventually resulting in organ failure and death. In its large multicenter Phase II trial, ARG201 demonstrated it has the potential to reverse long-term collagen buildup and significantly extend life expectancy.

The founders of arGentis are local business leaders who are committed to the city of Memphis. They want to build their company here and continue to use local resources. While the company is small right now, it has the potential to provide more than 100 jobs in the area and have a very positive impact on the local economy.

The final reason arGentis is an ideal first investment for Innova, is that in addition to having great potential, it also supports the efforts of the local universities. arGentis’ success will bring royalties to both the Southern College of Optometry (SCO) and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, enabling both institutions to continue with their strong research focuses and develop more intellectual property that has commercial viability.

arGentis is a wonderful example of what can happen when organizations work together to develop a national entrepreneurship center of excellence in Memphis. A couple of years ago, I connected the management of arGentis with the Southern College of Optometry to look at ways to commercialize the SCO’s therapies for Dry Eye Syndrome. Now, as part of the strategy from the MemphisED program aimed specifically at developing a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism in Memphis, Innova has completed the circle of entrepreneurship by choosing to invest in arGentis.

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