Avila was founded around the premise that there was significant untapped potential for the discovery and development of covalent drugs, otherwise known as irreversible small molecule inhibitors. For many years large pharmaceutical companies heavily de-emphasised irreversible inhibitors in favour of reversible inhibitors. Avila took a contrarian view believing that for many indications an appropriately designed irreversible inhibitor would provide superior clinical benefits, particularly in oncology and infectious disease where drug resistance was a problem. The company focused on designing and developing well-characterised drug candidates against clinically proven targets with the following unique drug characteristics: highly specific potent irreversible molecules with low reactivity. The goal was to generate First-in-Class and Best-in-Class novel molecules with maximum efficacy and minimal side-effects. Avila focused on kinase targets with known cysteine binding sites where crystal structures were well documented and assembled an impressive portfolio of novel IP in the covalent drug space. The company developed successful later stage programs in Btk, EGFR and HCV along with a series of promising earlier programmes prior to being acquired by Celgene in 2012.
In 2006 a former Abingworth employee introduced the Avila concept to us. We enabled the two Founders to incubate their concept in our Boston office. Abingworth led the Series A financing in February 2007 with Michael Bigham serving as Chairman and Acting CEO, during which time most of the senior management team was hired. A full-time Executive Chairman was hired by Avila in September 2008 with a full-time CEO hired soon afterwards. Avila operated out of the Abingworth Boston office until securing its own space in late 2008. Abingworth remained the largest investor up to the sale of the company to Celgene in 2012.