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The Next Big Idea: On The Ground Floor Of A Potential Biotech Giant

The logo for Navega Therapeutics.
Navega Therapeutics
The logo for Navega Therapeutics.
The Next Big Idea: On The Ground Floor Of A Potential Biotech Giant
The Next Big Idea: On The Ground Floor Of A Potential Biotech Giant GUEST: Ana Maria Moreno, co-founder and CEO, Navega Therapeutics

Silicon Valley startups have been going public in a big way lately. The online storage site Dropbox debuted on the Nasdaq Stock Market late last month quickly earning a market cap of $11 billion dollars. And music app Spotify’s initial public offering a few weeks ago pegged its value at $26 billion dollars.

But every billion-dollar company has to start somewhere and Ana Maria Moreno may have the seeds of one here in San Diego. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Navega Therapeutics, an early-stage biotech startup with ambitions to solve the nation’s opioid crisis. Moreno and her team are working on a way to decrease people’s sensitivity to pain without a pain-relieving drug.

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“Some people have a gene mutation and they have no pain whatsoever,” Moreno said. “What if we could target that gene in healthy individuals?”

The idea is based on Moreno’s work as a doctoral student at UC San Diego; her faculty advisor Prashant Mali is the company’s other co-founder. The therapy is patented and Moreno is working on raising $2 million to fund pre-clinical trials.

Even though there is no guarantee Navega will ever become a commercial success, Moreno said she doesn’t second-guess her decision to found her company. Her brother has a startup making underwater drones and her father runs a real estate business.

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“It comes from my family,” she said. “I’m from Mexico and you do better there by starting their own companies opposed to working for someone else. It just doesn’t pay well to be a university professor. So you’re always looking for the opportunity to do better.”

As part of KPBS Midday Edition’s special series, The Next Big Idea, Moreno discusses the promise of Navega Therapeutics.