New company raised $23 million in a Series A financing round.

A new company Afferent Pharmaceuticals has been founded with $23 million in Series A funding to develop new treatments for chronic pain based on Roche’s P2X3 receptor program. Co-founded by Roche’s former vp of research, Anthony Ford, Ph.D., Afferent has been granted an exclusive license to this program. Lead compound, AF-219, has successfully completed two Phase I studies and is expected to undergo efficacy testing in several indications starting in 2010.

Dr. Ford, the new company’s CSO, drove the P2X3 program at Roche over the last decade. “A major drawback of existing pain medications is their lack of specificity for pain pathways,” he explains. “Research shows that P2X3-containing receptors are highly specific to nerve fibers that transmit the sensations of pain and discomfort in response to inflammation or injury, particular in chronic conditions.

“P2X3 antagonism represents a breakthrough and potentially transformative approach to treating chronic pain associated with conditions such as osteoarthritis, back pain, visceral pain, and neuropathy,” Dr. Ford adds.

P2X3 receptor subunits are expressed specifically in C-fiber afferent neurons in multiple tissues and organ systems including joints and hollow organs, according to Afferent. This suggests they have a high degree of specificity to the body’s pain perceptive nociceptive system. P2X receptor-mediated afferent activation has already been implicated in inflammatory, visceral, and neuropathic pain states as well as in migraine, itch, and cancer pain, the company notes.

Along with Dr. Ford himself, investors in the new company include Pappas Ventures, Third Rock Ventures, Domain Associates, and New Leaf Ventures.

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