San Diego’s Sangart, whose $50 million fundraising round in 2009 ranked among the top 10 venture deals of the year in San Diego raised an additional $15 million last month in anticipation of additional clinical trials of its MP4OX, a blood adjunct and oxygen-carrying compound.
When I got a chance to get an update from Sangart CEO Brian O’Callaghan, he said the company completed two late-stage studies of its compound about this time last year, which provided a database on the compound’s safety. Neither study could be considered pivotal in terms of efficacy, however, so Sangart sought the recent funding so it can move to additional trials, which the company has been conducting in Europe and Africa.
As I explained last year, Sangart makes MP4OX by chemically modifying human hemoglobin (purified from donated blood) so it is pegylated (i.e. treated with polyethylene glycol), which allows the compound to reach oxygen-starved tissue before releasing its oxygen molecules.
Approximately 5 million people around the world die each year from traumatic injury, often from the oxygen deprivation in tissues and organs that occurs after severe blood loss. Still, so many trauma patients survive that there are strong economic and health arguments for MP4OX, O’Callaghan says. Treatment with the substance could potentially help trauma patients spend less time on a ventilator, fewer days in intensive care, and less overall time in a hospital.
O’Callaghan tells me that Sangart also has been developing MP4CO, a related compound designed to carry carbon monoxide, which at low doses can reduce inflammation and have other beneficial effects. For people with sickle cell anemia, O’Callaghan says, “small amounts of carbon monoxide have an un-sickling effect.”
A spokesman for Sangart explained that sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder in which red blood cells carry an abnormal type of hemoglobin. As red blood cells circulate and oxygen is released in the circulatory system, the deoxygenated, abnormal hemoglobin polymerizes and the red blood cells become sticky and elongated, resembling a sickle shape. These elongated, sickle cells obstruct small blood vessels, like a logjam in a river. They also can block normal red blood cells, limiting oxygen delivery to tissues and organs and causing a “sickle crisis” in which patients suffer severe pain and are at risk of stroke or heart attack.
O’Callaghan says Sangart recently received orphan drug status for MP4CO in both the United States and the European Union. The designation provides incentives to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop cures for rare diseases. In the case of sickle cell anemia, about 70,000 Americans are affected by the disease, and between 40,000 and 50,000 in Europe.
Roughly $165 million has been invested in Sangart through six rounds to get it this far, O’Callaghan said, with most of the funding coming from New York’s Leucadia National (NYSE: LUK), a diversified holding company. The rest has come from about 100 mostly individual investors.
The company has received about $1.3 million under a Cooperative Research And Development Agreement with the U.S. Navy for development of its MP4OX oxygen therapeutic, and O’Callaghan is hopeful the company can get an additional $15 million to $20 million in similar funding from the military.
The Sangart CEO says he also has been traveling, mostly in the U.S. and primarily to meet with potential investors and corporate partners. “A number of companies have been talking to us in relation to their own corporate strategy,” O’Callaghan said. In the meantime, O’Callaghan says Sangart is currently negotiating its Series G round of venture funding. After the next round of clinical trials are completed, he said, “then we would like to look at our options in terms of proceeding to Phase III trials. We want to keep our options open.”