At first glance, the $1.1 million financing announced by Halo Therapeutics on Tuesday looked like your average case of a biotech startup scraping together enough money to get its early-stage compound into pivotal human trials. But this funding was anything but average. That’s because the money came from 12 nonprofit foundations pursuing a common goal: They all want to find new treatments for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), a rare but debilitating muscle disease that leads to early death in young boys. And they all believe Halo might have a promising drug candidate—an experimental pill whose main ingredient was derived from an herb that’s been used in Chinese medicine since 4730 B.C.
Before we review this unusual story of drug development, let’s take a closer look at this week’s news. Halo’s new round of financing consists of traditional grants, plus notes that offer a fixed return to the nonprofits based on specific milestones that Halo achieves while developing the drug, called HT-100. The company expects to begin mid-stage human trials in the second half of this year. “If Halo adds value and we can repay that money, we want to offer [the groups] the opportunity to use it to develop other therapeutics,” says CEO Marc Blaustein. “We want to put the value back into the patient community.”
Halo itself originated from that patient community. It was founded by Minneapolis-based Nash Avery Foundation and Stockbridge, MA-based Charley’s Fund, two groups dedicated to accelerating research and drug development in DMD. Benjamin Seckler, a physician and president of Charley’s Fund, was scouring the medical literature a few years back looking for remedies that might help his son, Charley, age 11. He came across halofuginone, a drug being developed by an Israeli company called Collgard Biopharmaceuticals.
The drug’s active ingredient, made from the Chinese herb dichroa febrifuga, had been tested by the U.S. military as an anti-malaria compound in the 1940s and later was synthesized by the pharmaceutical industry. Blaustein, who is the company’s sole full-time employee, says that experiments in mouse models of DMD suggested that Collgard’s compound has three key attributes: It fights … Next Page »
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