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Former M.D. Anderson president’s new Houston company names first CEO

Houston-based biopharmaceutical company Tvardi Therapeutics Inc., which was co-founded by former University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center president Dr. Ronald DePinho, named Imran Alibhai as its CEO, effective immediately.

Alibhai most recently served as a senior vice president and managing director of Houston-based DNAtrix Inc., a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company developing oncolytic viruses for cancer, according to a Dec. 12 release from Tvardi. While Alibhai worked for DNAtrix, the company secured multiple rounds of financing and entered into a Phase 2 immuno-oncology collaboration with New Jersey-based Merck & Co. — one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world.

Alibhai also formerly worked in an investing role at Alexandria Venture Investments, the venture capital arm of Pasadena, California-based Alexandria Real Estate Equities Inc. (NYSE: ARE), that invested an undisclosed amount of money into Tvardi’s $9 million Series A financing round. In addition to being hired as CEO of the company, Alibhai will serve on the Tvardi board of directors.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to build a truly diversified clinical stage company in Houston,” Alibhai told the Houston Business Journal. “We have tremendous assets here in town, so it just makes sense for the company to grow and burgeon from here.”

Tvardi employs five to six people in Houston, Alibhai told the HBJ. He said that the company will be aggressively hiring over the next year but did not have an approximate number of open roles. Tvardi relocated its office to a suite inside of the TMC Innovation Institute at 2450 Holcombe Blvd. on Dec. 1 — it had previously occupied office space at 7000 Fannin St.

DePinho, co-founder and director of Tvardi and professor and past president of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, told the HBJ in September that his company was actively searching for its first CEO.

“After a competitive national search, we are delighted to welcome Dr. Alibhai to Tvardi,” DePinho said in the Tvardi release. “Imran’s depth and breadth of leadership experience as an executive, investor and entrepreneur will accelerate the development of our lead products through proof-of-concept trials in oncology as well as progress our programs in inflammation and fibrosis.”

Tvardi develops a cancer drug that acts as an inhibitor to STAT3 — a signaling molecule that, when left unrestrained, can sometimes lead to the development of cancerous tumors and other serious inflammatory and fibrotic conditions, according to a Tvardi release and the National Center for Biotechnology Information. In September, Tvardi closed on a $9 million Series A financing round with funds going towards the company’s ongoing Phase I clinical trials and further development its lead drug, called TTI-101.

The $9 million Series A funds came from both private and institutional investors, DePinho said. An undisclosed amount of money came from the venture capital arm of Pasadena, California-based life sciences real estate firm Alexandria Real Estate LLC. Some of the unnamed private investors are based in Houston, who contributed a significant amount to the Series A funds, DePinho said.

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