NEW HAVEN — The chief executive officer of a biopharmaceutical company that uses artificial intelligence to identify new medicines says he expects to see his workforce in the city double by next year and top 100 employees here within two years.
Vimal Mehta said BioXcel Therapeutics employs about two-dozen people in 11,000 square feet of space it moved into six months ago in the Long Wharf Maritime Center. The company held an open house this week to celebrate its move into the space on the 12th floor of the building, which overlooks New Haven Harbor.
With one drug candidate on track to receive federal Food and Drug Administration approval in 2021 and another in development for treating pancreatic and advanced prostate cancer, Mehta said the New Haven area has the kind of talent pool the company needs as it grows.
“We have people who have worked at other (biotech) companies and want to remain in the area,” Mehta said. “People have said, ‘Why don’t you move to Cambridge?’ But we see that people want to come here.”
BioXcel Therapeutics is a publicly traded spinoff of a Branford-based data analytics company BioXcel Corp. BioXcel Therapeutics debuted in 2017 and raised $60 million through an initial public offering in March 2018.
BioXcel Therapeutics develops potential drug candidates using artificial intelligence to pore through the 5,000 medical papers published each day, according to Mehta, as well as tens of millions of scientific papers already in existence.
The company’s artificial intelligence programs look for drug compounds that already have been tested in humans, but have not realized their full potential.
Mehta said that allows it to reduce the amount of time it takes to develop a new drug to a window of four to five years. The traditional drug discovery process, in which new drugs are developed from scratch, can take 10 to 12 years, he said.
“That’s what we find to be very exciting,” Mehta said. “That’s what this business is all about. Getting drugs into the hands of patients that can help them live better lives.”
That’s how BioXcel Therapeutics discovered BXCL501, which is the drug the company expects will become its first FDA-approved drug sometime within the next two years.
Artificial intelligence identified dexmedetomidine, a sedative delivered via injection that was developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer 20 years ago.
BXCL501 adapts the properties found in dexmedetomidine and uses a thin film that is dissolved after being placed under the tongue to deliver the sedative. It can be used to treat bipolar disorders, delirium, schizophrenia and opioid withdrawal.
Mehta said there is a broad potential market for BXCL501.
“Anxiety is one of the biggest reasons that people file for workers’ comp claims,” he said.
Last month, BioXcel Therapeutics got a $150,000 planning grant from the U.S. Defense Department to explore whether BXCL501 can be used treat alcohol and substance abuse related to post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
The other promising drug candidate BioXcel Therapeutics has in development is BXCL701, which would be used for the treatment of pancreatic and advanced prostate cancer.
Earlier this month, the FDA granted an orphan drug designation for BXCL701 for use in treating acute myeloid leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that spreads quickly if not treated.
The FDA grants the orphan designation to drugs that are intended to rare diseases and disorders, which the agency defines as affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the United States. The designation allows BioXcel to qualify for a number of incentives.
Those incentives include seven years of market exclusivity for the version of the drug used to treat the rare disease. Other incentives include a waiver of certain fees, as well as tax credits for clinical trials of the drug.
Frank Yocca, the company’s chief scientific officer, said BioXcel’s team assesses a variety of factors in determining which of the potential uses for drug compounds identified through artificial intelligence are the most promising. Yocca said BXCL501 and BXCL701 will serve as “measuring sticks” in evaluating what other new drugs BioXcel Therapeutics develops.
“It has to make sense for us to develop on a variety of levels,” he said.