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Houston Biotech Vapogenix Raises $5.1M for Skin-Numbing Drug

Xconomy Texas — 

Vapogenix, a Houston biotech that aims to build a better treatment for skin pain, has completed a $5.1 million Series B funding round—and is already looking at raising additional capital later this year.

The B round was led by Switzerland-based Pamoja Capital and GPG Ventures in Dallas.

Vapogenix is developing a rapidly acting topical analgesic to numb the skin for IV insertions or dermatological procedures, especially those in children. The idea is that volatile anesthetics, which are currently inhaled by patients during general anesthesia, can be marshaled into topical gels and liquids to alleviate pain.

There are topical creams available, like prescription-only EMLA and Bengay, which is available over-the-counter, that provide some pain relief. While the base drugs in those therapies—the “caines,” such as lidocaine or benzocaine—can relieve pain and numb the affected area, they can take up to an hour to work. Altman says Vapogenix’s core drug is absorbed by the skin in five minutes.

The company just completed its first phase 1 clinical trial with 42 patients. “The primary object here was safety,” says Danguole Altman, the company’s CEO. “The sort of things that the FDA cares about is do you get skin rashes? … We are happy with the safety data. The drug was well tolerated.”

The last time I spoke to Altman, in July 2013 at Vapogenix’s office in the shadow of the Houston Astrodome, the company was just completing its application with the FDA to begin clinical testing of its first topical analgesic. In addition to the progress on that drug, Altman says the company is starting the development of a second drug, one that would treat pain associated with chronic open wounds.

Altman says that about 6.5 million people in the United States suffer from wounds that do not heal after three months. “We see the need around the pain that you hear about when you interview the patients,” she says. “That’s what they care about. They can’t sleep; it really affects quality of life.”

Most drugs currently used for pain management are composed of opioids, which have the risk of addiction. Those drugs can also be less effective when used to treat chronic pain since the body gets used to the drug and stops responding, requiring larger doses of the drug. And current pain medications have other less serious but uncomfortable side effects, such as constipation.

As Vapogenix begins fundraising for its Series C round, Altman says the next step for its first product is to enroll patients in a phase 2 trial, something she hopes they can do in 2016. “For the second product, we’re still exploring what the plan is. We’re thinking of doing a clinical trial by the end of this year.”