A small Totem Lake biotech firm focused on defeating the virus that causes AIDS launched a second trial of its experimental treatment this...

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A small Totem Lake biotech firm focused on defeating the virus that causes AIDS launched a second trial of its experimental treatment this week.

Koronis Pharmaceuticals plans to enroll 40 patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the trial to test the safety of its drug, dubbed KP-1461.

The therapy, invented by University of Washington scientists Drs. Lawrence Loeb and James Mullins, seeks to overcome the problem of drug resistance in HIV treatments.

Drugs such as zidovudine, known commonly as AZT, are designed to inhibit certain functions of the virus, such as its ability to replicate. That puts direct pressure on the virus, which mutates quickly and can adapt to overcome the treatments, said Dr. John Reno, Koronis’ chief operating officer.

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KP-1461 is designed to randomly infiltrate the virus’ DNA, provoking rapid mutations that cause the virus “to basically rot from within,” he said.

Scientists hope the randomness of each attack — KP-1461 could act on any one of 10,000 nucleotides — will hinder HIV’s ability to develop resistance.

Patients now enrolling in the latest Phase I trial, at seven HIV treatment centers around the country, will receive two daily doses of KP-1461 for two weeks. In practice the drug would likely be administered for a much longer period, Reno said.

The company is considering a three-month regimen for its Phase II trial, set to begin next summer.

Koronis, founded in 1999, has received $14 million in two venture funding rounds, the most recent in June, said Donald Elmer, board chairman. Elmer is managing general partner with Pacific Horizon Ventures of Seattle, which lead the funding, joined by Asset Management of Palo Alto, Calif., and Johnson and Johnson Development.

The company has about 10 employees.

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com