Avexegen Therapeutics has been awarded a $225,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to advance the clinical development of NRG-4 (Neuregulin-4), the company’s lead investigational drug candidate for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The grant, awarded under the NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), will be used to explore different routes of delivery for NGR-4, a drug the company believes could be the first therapy to directly heal damaged and inflamed gut tissue in IBD patients.
NGR-4 is a naturally occurring peptide present in gastrointestinal (GI) tissue as well as human breast milk. In preclinical proof-of-concept studies of IBD models, the drug demonstrated significant restorative effects of the gut tissue. These studies determined NGR-4 was able to simultaneously suppress pro-inflammatory cytokines while driving the healing process of damaged and inflamed epithelial tissue.
“We believe that NRG-4, with its unique dual mode of action, has the potential to be a first-in-class therapy that may further improve patient care and long-term outcomes,” Artin Asadourian, CEO of Avexegen Therapeutics, said in a recent press release.
According to estimates from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1 million to 1.3 million people in the U.S. have IBD.
In people with IBD, the immune system mistakes food, bacteria, and other materials in the intestine for foreign substances and it attacks the cells of the intestines. In the process, the body sends white blood cells into the lining of the intestines where they produce chronic inflammation.
Currently, the available therapies for IBD target immune suppression in order to manage the disease. However, these drugs are not suitable for long-term disease management because more than 50 percent of patients experience disease progression, and the safety profile for these drugs includes infections as side effects.
The SBIR is a highly competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in federal research and research and development that has the potential for commercialization.
The SBIR supports scientific excellence and technological innovation by enabling small businesses to explore their potential and providing a profit incentive from commercializing their products.