Early-Stage Promise for Spinal Cord Injury Repair
A University of California professor has created an innovative new treatment for spinal cord injuries.
Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are a devastating blow to ~17,500 new patients each year and lead to nearly $4,700,000 in lifetime costs. For the 285,000 patients living with SCI, it is not possible to truly reverse the damage. There is no FDA-approved treatment to improve functional recovery other than rehabilitation.
This is where Yimin Zou, a professor at University of California San Diego, is trying to make a difference. He has dedicated years to studying how the neurons in the brain and spinal cord are wired together by nerve connections called axons. These axons carry nerve signals of body sensation up to the brain and motor commands from the brain down to the spinal cord to control movement. He discovered the first molecular guidance cues for these sensory and motor axons and subsequently showed how the same axon guidance molecules regulate adult axon regeneration after spinal cord injury. These pioneering discoveries provide novel opportunities for developing therapies to help patients regain body sensation and motor control.
VersaPeutics was founded in March 2017 and received an exclusive license from UCSD in December 2017 and is currently developing a first-in-class therapy by promoting the growth of axons thus making new connections and circuits. Using this strategy, the sensory and motor functions of patients with acute or recent spinal cord injury could be permanently improved or with time completely recover. This would fundamentally improve the quality of life for most of these patients.
Prof. Zou in a UCSD press release:
“Our new study now provides the first genetic evidence that those signaling proteins, important in wiring the nervous system in development, have a profound influence on how central nervous system axons respond to spinal cord injury. This suggests that many other guidance cues, in addition to these signaling proteins, may also play roles in adult spinal cord repair. This opens up new opportunities to apply what we’ve learned in nervous system development to treat paralysis in adulthood.”
Typically, more than 80-90% of patients have some spared spinal cord tissue that allows for the regrowth and rerouting of axons to find new targets. During animal studies Prof. Zou’s team discovered rodents which the function of Ryk, a Wnt receptor that mediates axon repulsion and inhibits axon growth, also showed significant signs of recovery as early as one month after treatment and the recovery lasted for many months. The rodents were able to display a skilled forelimb reach assay which specifically tested the spinal cord’s control via commands sent by axons from the motor cortex with increased growth.
Prof. Zou in a UCSD press release:
“We found that manipulating Ryk will not only improve the results of functional recovery, but also speed up recovery. If this can be achieved in humans, it will significantly improve the recovery and quality of life for individuals with partial spinal cord injuries.”
VersaPeutics completed their first closure of Series A in November 2018 with lead investors from Viva Biotech. Viva Biotech is an early-stage investor and CRO company led by a team of scientists and industry veterans integrated across all indications. They endeavor to invest and offer services by providing a strong scientific foundation and adding concrete value for their partners and clients. Viva Biotech contributed $3,000,000 to VersaPeutics’ Series A. Along with a Series Seed, led by Sangel Venture Capital (September 2017), VersaPeutics has raised a total of $4,300,000. Based in the JLABS of San Diego, VersaPeutics is currently conducting IND-enabling research and plans to file an IND for spinal cord injury early 2020. VersaPeutics is seeking additional funding for Series A and expects to raise Series B in 2020 to support Phase 1 clinical studies.
“Viva has been an incredibly valuable partner for VersaPeutics and we are very fortunate to have worked with their team. Their unique model and ecosystem are particularly suited for early-stage startups. In particular, their leadership values the potential of the science and technology and offers rich experience to help nurture the growth of the company,” said Prof Zou, the Founder of VersaPeutics.
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