Azora's story started in 2015 when Julie Saiki a graduate student at Stanford University studying musicology started to feel unwell. Julie was a lifelong violin player who spent a year after graduating from college as a Fulbright scholar researching Austrian chamber music. Her medical issues began to make playing violin difficult. Julie was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and tried unsuccessfully to manage her disease with commonly available medications. Desperate for help, she turned to a non-FDA approved traditional herbal remedy recommended by a relative and quickly put her disease in remission. She knew that ulcerative colitis is incredibly common and not well-managed with current therapies and thought this remedy might be able to help others if it could be developed in a way that was convenient, safe, effective and FDA-approved. But developing a drug is incredibly difficult, time consuming not to mention very expensive. Motivated to help others, Julie convinced Stanford to let her audit medical school classes and found a mentor who encouraged her to switch into the chemical and systems biology PhD program.
Not knowing exactly where to start, Julie pitched the idea of studying and modernizing the traditional remedy to the Stanford SPARK program, an organization who's mission is to move academic discoveries from the laboratory to patient care. SPARK provided seed funding and connect Julie with drug development experts.
After years of dedicated work, Julie and her team of advisors and clinicians began a clinical trial in pateints with ulcerative colitis at Stanford. Some of the patients in the clinical trail were quite ill, having failed all available treatments and were scheduled to have their colons surgically removed. Although the study was small and not placebo controlled, the results were paradigm shifting. The full results of the study have been submitted for publication.
Julie' story was written up in Inside Stanford Medicine and can be read in full here.
In 2018, after completion of the clinical study in ulcerative colitis, one of Julie's SPARK advisors introduced her to Matt Davidson, PhD who had graduated with his doctorate from Stanford in immunology five years earlier. After graduating Matt started a medical dermatology company called Verrica Pharmaceuticals based on personal experience dealing with a pesky wart on his hand. You can read more about Matt's background here. Verrica's mission was to modernize a traditional medicine historical used to to treat diseases. Matt invested the core technology at Verrica and then ran the company for 5 years as founder/CEO taking the company into successful pivotal P3 trials for the treatment of the vial skin disease mollusucm contagiousm and an IPO on NASDAQ. After the IPO, Matt was looking for a new challenge and the introduction to Julie came at a great time.
Matt and Julie quickly formed Azora Therapeutics Inc. They realized that the mechanism of action may be broadly applicable to many serious inflammatory diseases that are poorly served by existing therapies. The indication at the top of the list with Hidradenitis suppurativa, one of the biggest unmet needs in medical dermatology characterized by recurrent painful inflammatory lesions that occur under the arms and around the groin.
The two co-founders raised capital to advance the science, manufacturer clinical materials and push Azora's programs forward into the clinic. Azora is optimistic that Julie's discovery may one day lead to new therapeutics options for pateints with serious inflammatory diseases.