A few years ago, Brian Quigley ended a 16-year run at tobacco giant Altria to join what was then a Los Angeles-based startup looking to develop a device to help cigarette smokers kick the habit.
Quigley started at the company, Qnovia, as COO in 2020, as it continued to work on its idea for an inhaler-like nicotine replacement product.
Now, with Quigley at the helm as CEO, the company has relocated its headquarters to Richmond and just closed on a $17 million capital raise. It intends to use the funds to continue development as it looks to secure FDA approval needed to begin human clinical trials for its device dubbed RespiRx.
RespiRx is a portable, hand-held nebulizer, a powered medical device that delivers medicine as an inhaled mist and is similar to an inhaler. It uses cartridges and is designed to deliver medicine in metered doses.
“We have a proprietary inhaled drug delivery platform we believe can revolutionize the treatment (of nicotine addiction),” said Quigley, who was named CEO in May. “Nicotine replacement therapy is our first commercial application to bring that technology to market in an area we think there is an urgent need for improved therapeutics.”
The device is designed to deliver a nicotine hit more quickly than existing therapies. The idea is that users will be better able to manage withdrawals and, therefore, be more likely to quit smoking.
“The problem we’re solving is the existing therapies available to patients, like over-the-counter gums and patches, deliver nicotine to a smoker trying to quit at a slow rate,” Quigley said. “They aren’t getting enough nicotine into their systems and they withdraw and give up. We can deliver less nicotine than a cigarette but can deliver more rapidly when needed.”
Quigley said the capital raise is a big step forward for Qnovia. It will use the funds to develop a proof of concept for the RespiRx device as a nicotine replacement therapy product and move it through an FDA approval process before the anticipated start of human clinical trials in 2023.
Blue Ledge Capital led the equity round. DG Ventures, Vice Ventures, Evolution VC Partners, Gaingels and TL Capital also contributed funding.
The capital is expected to carry Qnovia through 2023. Quigley said the company plans to kick off additional fundraising the following year to polish off the clinical trials.
The product is expected to hit the market as a prescription treatment.
Qnovia is now based in the Scott’s Addition outpost of coworking brand Gather. Qnovia was founded in 2018 in Los Angeles by Mario Danek as Respira Technologies and rebranded in September. Danek became chief technology officer when Quigley took the top job.
“Virginia is a more business friendly state to be in and a lot of the partners we work with are on the East Coast,” Quigley said of the move to Richmond. The company contracts with a Boston manufacturer to make its device and a firm in Pennsylvania to create the medicine administered through the device.
The five-person company has employees in California, Texas and Illinois.
Quigley said the company plans to hire three to five more employees who will work in areas like engineering and clinical and non-clinical science within the next 12 to 18 months. A portion of the recently raised funds is earmarked for hiring. While Quigley is open to applicants from anywhere, he said Richmond-area folks are particularly appealing.
“My vision would be that we continue to have a location-agnostic approach (to hiring). But I think this business and science community is a great place to mine talent and scale the company,” he said.
Quigley said the transition to a startup that seeks to help smokers quit is a continuation of his interest in minimizing the ill effects of tobacco consumption by focusing on alternative products, such as smokeless tobacco, which doesn’t have some of the health risks of cigarettes. While at Altria, Quigley had a six-year stint as CEO of the company’s subsidiary U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.
“I’ve always been passionate about how you reduce the harm associated with smoking, even when I was with Altria,” said Quigley, who saw how his dad found quitting challenging. “I look at it as a natural extension of what I was passionate about when I was at Altria and now I’m doing it through a pharma pathway.”
Looking forward, Qnovia is also interested in exploring how RespiRx can be used for asthma, pain management, vaccines and other uses.
Phlow, another local pharmaceutical company, is working on a $50 million capital raise.