Startup led by former Altria exec raises $17 million to make an inhaler for smokers who want to quit

Brian Quigley is the CEO of Richmond-based Qnovia, which is developing an inhaler-like device intended to help smokers quit nicotine. The company just closed a $17 million capital increase. (Photos courtesy of Kanuvia)

A few years ago, Brian Quigley ended a 16-year career at tobacco giant Altria to join what was then a Los Angeles startup looking to develop a device to help cigarette smokers kick the habit.

Quigley started at Qnovia, as COO in 2020, where she continued working on her idea for an inhaler-like nicotine replacement product.

Now, with Quigley at the helm as CEO, the company has moved its headquarters to Richmond and just closed a $17 million capital increase. It intends to use the money to continue development as it looks to obtain the necessary Food and Drug Administration approval to begin human clinical trials for its device, called RespiRx.

RespiRx is a portable, handheld nebulizer that is a powered medical device that delivers medication as an inhaled mist and is similar to an inhaler. Cartridges are used and are designed to deliver medication in specific doses.

“We have a proprietary inhaled drug delivery platform that we believe can revolutionize the treatment of[nicotine addiction],” said Quigley, who was appointed CEO in May. “NRT is our first commercial application to bring this technology to market in an area where we believe there is an urgent need to improve treatments.”

The device is designed to deliver a dose of nicotine more quickly than current treatments. The idea is that users will be better able to manage withdrawals and, in turn, will be more likely to quit.

“The problem we are solving is the current treatments available to patients, such as over-the-counter gums and patches, and delivering nicotine to a smoker trying to quit at a slow rate,” Quigley said. “They don’t get enough nicotine in their systems and they withdraw and stop. We can deliver less nicotine than cigarettes, but we can deliver nicotine more quickly when needed.”

Quigley said the capital increase is a big step forward for Qnovia. The money will be used to develop a proof of concept for RespiRx as a NRT product and move it through the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process before the expected 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 to the financing.

The capital is expected to hold Qnovia until 2023. Quigley said the company plans to start raising additional donations the following year to end clinical trials.

The product is expected to reach the market as a prescription treatment.

Qnovia is now based in Gather’s Scott’s Addition location. Qnovia was founded in 2018 in Los Angeles by Mario Dink under the name Respira Technologies and rebranded in September. Danek became chief technology officer when Quigley took over the top position.

“Virginia is a much more business-friendly state, and many of the partners we work with are on the East Coast,” Quigley said of moving to Richmond. The company contracts with a manufacturer in Boston to manufacture the device and with a company in Pennsylvania to create the drug 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 additional employees who will work in areas such as engineering, clinical and non-clinical sciences within the next 12 to 18 months. A portion of the recently raised funds are earmarked for employment. While Quigley is open to applicants from anywhere, he said people in the Richmond area are particularly attractive.

“My vision is that we continue to have a location-neutral approach[to hiring]. But I think this business and science community is a great place to mine talent and scale the company.

Quigley said the move to a startup that seeks to help smokers quit is a continuation of his interest in reducing the ill effects of tobacco consumption by focusing on alternative products, such as smokeless tobacco, that do not have some of the health risks of cigarettes. . While at Altria, Quigley served for six years as CEO of US Smokeless Tobacco Co.

“I’ve always been excited about how to reduce the harm associated with smoking, even when I was with Altria,” said Quigley, who saw how his father found quitting smoking a challenge. “I see it as a natural extension of what I was passionate about when I was on Altria, and now I do it through the medication pathway.”

Looking to the future, 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 $50 million capital increase.

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