A group of Toronto-based institutions joined initial investors incontributing $12.5 million in venture financing to VascularTherapeutics Inc., which is nearing human studies of an agent toovercome the problems associated with existing antithrombotics.
Vascular Therapeutics was founded in July 1994 to commercializework coming out of the Hamilton Civic Hospitals Research Centre(HCHRC), a Hamilton, Ontario facility dedicated to thromboticresearch. The company is based in Mountain View, Calif., andHamilton.
The lead product candidate, Vasoflux, is a chemically and physicallymodified oligosaccharide that catalyzes a naturally occurring proteinto go after clot-bound thrombin, or "bad thrombin," said Jim Allen,president and CEO of Vascular Therapeutics.
Allen said researchers at HCHRC discovered thrombin bound to theclot still is catalytically active, and also the cause of the continualclotting process, even when anti-clotting drugs such as heparin areadministered. He said most research, however, has been aimed at freethrombin.
Heparin, which has bleeding side effects, is not at all active againstclot-bound thrombin, Allen said. And other agents such as hirulogand hirudin have some activity against clot-bound thrombin, but alsoknock out free thrombin, he said.
"If you knock out free thrombin the naturally occurring bleeds don'thave a chance to clot," Allen said. "You want some free thrombinaround."
Jack Hirsh, who directs the HCHRC, said understanding the triggerfor thrombosis, or blood clotting, was clot-bound rather than freethrombin allowed researchers to design a compound that selectivelytargets clot-bound thrombin, "making it an effective antithromboticwithout the risk of bleeding associated with traditionalanticoagulants. In all our preclinical studies, Vasoflux has shown avery favorable efficacy and safety profile compared to that of otherantithrombotic agents."
Vasoflux development is one of about six programs VascularTherapeutics is helping to fund at HCHRC, all related in some way toblood clotting. But nearly all of the focus is on Vasoflux and thecompany anticipates beginning Phase I trials by the end of the year.
The $12.5 million financing should last Vascular Therapeutics aboutthree years, long enough to get Vasoflux through Phase II, Allen said.Some of the funds will be used to support research on the preclinicalpipeline.
The company, which has a Hamilton-based affiliate called VascularTherapeutics Canada Inc., had secured $4 million in funding in itsfirst round of financing. Initial investors were Medicus VenturePartners, of Menlo Park, Calif.; Domain Associates, of Princeton,N.J.; and Biotechnology Investments Ltd., of Guernsey, U.K. Theyall participated in the new round, as did the Toronto-based firmsHealth Care and Biotechnology Venture Fund, MDS Health VenturesInc., the Canadian Medical Discoveries Fund and Working VenturesCanadian Fund Inc.
In exchange for equity and research funding, Vascular Therapeuticsgained exclusive worldwide rights to technology related to vasculardisease developed at the HCHRC. Vascular Therapeutics, whichcontracts out much of its work, has only three employees. n
-- Jim Shrine Staff Writer
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