NormOxys Pockets $17.5M for Drugs Against Heart Failure, Cancer

5/24/10Follow @xconomy

NormOxys, the Wellesley, MA-based company on a quest to make a new class of drugs that normalize oxygen levels in deprived tissues, has raised $17.5 million in venture capital to run its first set of tests in people with chronic heart failure and cancer.

The financing was led by a new investor, Princeton, NJ-based Care Capital, and included the company’s original backer, Switzerland-based Index Ventures. NormOxys, founded in 2004, has now raised about $30 million since its founding.

NormOxys, which we profiled when it emerged from stealth mode in December, is certainly pursuing a novel idea. The company’s lead drug candidate is a small-molecule compound that it says can induce tiny oxygen-carrying red blood cells to release a controlled amount of their oxygen payload into tissues that desperately need more oxygen. NormOxys is thinking specifically about heart muscles laboring under the stress of congestive heart failure, unable to pump enough blood to provide the energy people need. This is a tricky thing to do, because delivering too much oxygen too fast can be a bad thing. Other companies have tested drugs that increase the production of red blood cells, or the amount of hemoglobin that carries oxygen, but have led to serious side effects, including heart attack and death.

But if NormOxys can show in a couple early studies over the next year that its controlled release of oxygen works in people like it has in animals, the company could tap into a potentially very big market. An estimated 5 million people in the U.S. suffer from chronic heart failure, a condition that causes severe fatigue and death. NormOxys could offer an alternative therapy to the standard beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors that have a more limited effect in boosting exercise capacity, at least compared to what NormOxys says it has seen in animals so far.

“We can get to proof of concept relatively quickly, and it will have a large impact on our value,” says CEO Martin Tolar. The prize, once the concept is proven, will be a partnership with a big drugmaker or an acquisition, Tolar says.

The NormOxys method is based on biology research from Claude Nicolau, a visiting professor at Tufts University in Medford, MA, and chemistry research from Jean-Marie Lehn, a Nobel laureate at the College de France in Paris. Their approach is to create drugs that work as “oxyrens,” which interact with hemoglobin in a way that allows that protein to release much more than the usual one-fourth of oxygen it binds with. The lead drug candidate is called OXY111A.

Today, NormOxys is also announcing that it has started the first clinical trial … Next Page »

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