ArGentis Pharmaceuticals LLC has received a patent for its scleroderma therapy while finalizing plans for a Phase IIb trial for the treatment known as ARG201.

The patent comes nearly two years after it was developed by University of Tennessee Health Science Center researchers Arnold Postlethwaite and Andrew Kang and acquired by ArGentis. ArGentis, a Memphis-based specialty biopharmaceutical company, began the patent process and Phase I trials of ARG201 in 2008.

The treatment is for systemic sclerosis, a form of scleroderma, a widespread connective tissue disease that affects the skin, blood vessels, muscles and internal organs. The disease affects about 100,000 people in the U.S. If ARG201 proves successful through its trial, it would become one of the first therapies for patients who have had the disease between three and 10 years, says Ted Townsend, COO of ArGentis.

“This is an unmet medical need and it would be first in class from a commercialization standpoint,” he says.

To conduct the trial, ArGentis is looking to raise $12 million to $15 million in a new round of investing. However, Townsend says, the company may have to look outside the local angel investing community for the funding.

“I think we’re moving toward a realm of larger institutional money, but we’d welcome their continued support,” he says.

Another option for ArGentis could be the federal Therapeutic Discovery Tax Credit, which was part of health care legislation that was passed earlier this year. The program sets aside $1 billion in grants for startup drug companies with fewer than 250 employees that have heavily invested in research and development. The companies can apply beginning June 21, and the application process ends July 21. ArGentis, with two full-time and five adjunct employees, could fit the bill. Companies that are chosen could receive a maximum of $5 million in grants, says Brandon Wellford, CFO of Memphis Bioworks Foundation, which is currently investigating which local companies could be eligible for the funding.

The funding could also benefit Memphis-based biopharmaceutical company GTx Inc., which has said it is exploring the possibility of applying.

“More than anything else, we’re trying to make sure the companies we work with are familiar with the program,” Wellford says. “There are a lot of companies that are spending heavily on research and development that could fit in.”

In addition to angel investments, ArGentis received funding from Memphis venture capital firm Innova. Ken Woody, president of Innova, says the company is worth a look from potential investors.

“Investors look for anything that says companies are moving to accomplish milestones,” Woody says. “They’re heading in the right direction and the science supports what they’re doing.”

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