Santa Monica’s MAX BioPharma Develops New Drug Candidate to Treat COVID-19

Local startup develops news compound with antiviral activity against COVID-19

by Wayne Lewis

Dr. Farhad Parhami (far left) and the team at MAX BioPharma, a Santa Monica biopharmaceutical startup.

Dr. Farhad Parhami (far left) and the team at MAX BioPharma, a Santa Monica biopharmaceutical startup.

This article was originally published in The Santa Monica Mirror

MAX BioPharma, a Santa Monica biopharmaceutical startup has developed a new drug candidate with antiviral activity against COVID-19.

In collaboration with scientists at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in Tokyo, Japan, these so-called semi-synthetic oxysterols, were derived from a collection of sterol molecules created by MAX BioPharma, as part of its Oxysterol Therapeutics® platform technology that has produced oxysterol-based drug candidates in other therapeutic indications, including cancer, fibrosis and bone formation.

“Our compound is something that originated from a naturally occurring substance in the body. What we did was that we discovered the biological activity of it (i.e. that it is antiviral) and we made it better,” said Dr. Farhad Parhami, Founder, President and CEO of MAX BioPharma. “By better I mean it is more effective in fighting the virus. It can be given orally. As we look at what is going on with the vaccines for COVID-19 we realize that there are many uncertainties about them. It’s a novel technology, it is fantastic but there are a lot of uncertainties. How long is the protection from the vaccine going to last? Will they work on the virus as it mutates? How often do we need to be vaccinated.”

According to Dr. Parhami, an oxysterol-based drug will be very patient friendly due its ability to be administered orally via a pill as soon as the patient is COVID positive, even with no symptoms.

“If they take this and it stops the ability of the virus to grow and become more abundant in the body, it would allow our immune system to fight and get rid of the virus more effectively,”  Dr. Parhami said.

Inside MAX BioPharma’s space in Santa Monica.

Dr. Parhami and MAX BioPharma have deep roots on the Westside. Dr. Parhami was born in Iran and moved to the United States in 1980, growing up in Santa Monica and Brentwood. After attending University High School, Dr. Parhami went to UCLA for his bachelors, PHD and MBA degrees before getting a faculty position at the University. In 2011, he founded MAX BioPharma and in 2013 became a part of an incubator program at UCLA (UCLA Magnify).

“After 3 years at the UCLA incubator, we wondered  ‘where are we going to go next?’” Dr. Parhami said. “We had to graduate from the UCLA incubator and move to an independent location.“  Santa Monica obviously is a fantastic location and who doesn’t want to be in Santa Monica? Our limitation was that we are a biopharmaceutical laboratory, and because of the kind of equipment we have, it had to be an industrial space.”

After more than 8 months of searching, the company found an industrial space at the Roberts Campus on Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica.

“We went and looked at it and the rent was high but the alternative was to go further south to some of the places near LAX or El Segundo. Their rents per square foot would be cheaper but the spaces were much larger and we didn’t need that much space,” Dr. Parhami said. “My team lives on the Westside, from Santa Monica all the way to Culver City, and therefore we decided that we rent our current space in Santa Monica and avoid the headaches of having to drive through L.A. traffic to get to work every day..”

Dr. Parhami says that opening in Santa Monica was smoother than expected and the city has welcomed MAX BioPharma with open arms.

“It was so easy to work with the Santa Monica officials,” Dr. Parhami said. “Especially for a bio pharmaceutical company that is very important because you wouldn’t necessarily think that we are the right fit for Santa Monica. I mean Santa Monica is really hip, not that we are not, but you got record studios, you got movie studios, you got high end retail stores, and then you have very few companies that are like us….We couldn’t be happier in our current space and we are grateful to our landlord and management at Roberts Campus for taking great care of us.

Dr. Farhad Parhami

Currently, MAX BioPharma is in the process of raising a series A financing round to support the advancement of its therapeutic development programs.

“The way that the public can help us is by first of all becoming aware of what we do and thenby supporting our goals through financial backing, equity investment or philanthropy.  We know that there a lot of generous individuals in our community that would be willing to help us develop therapies for many human diseases including cancer and Covid-19,.” Dr. Parhami said. “Together we can achieve a lot.”

And while COVID-19 may at some point dwindle away, Dr. Parhami says MAX BioPharma is here to stay in Santa Monica.

“COVID is not the only thing we do,” Dr. Parhami said “We are also developing new medicines for a number of cancers, including lung, pancreas and blood cancers, and also for a number of diseases that involve fibrosis (lung, liver, kidney fibrosis). As we grow, we’ll increase our footprint and lease more space and just grow in Santa Monica.”

For more information, visit www.maxbiopharma.com