Drug aims to help treat spinal cord injuries

Researchers at ReNetX Bio are hoping a new name, the potential for a new influx of cash on the horizon and a new chief executive officer are the winning combination needed to bring its lead drug candidate to market.

ReNetX Bio is looking to guide its drug candidate, Nogo Trap, through its first round of clinical trials. Company officials say Nogo Trap is designed to help patients with chronic spinal cord injury.

The science behind Nogo Trap comes out of work done by Stephen Strittmatter, director of Yale University’s Department of Cellular Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration and Repair. And Strittmatter is relaunching his former company, Axerion Therapeutics, as ReNetX Bio.

The new name is short for Restoration of Neural Network. And with the new name comes a new chief executive officer, Erika Smith.

Smith comes to ReNetX Bio from Yale’s Blavatnik Fund for Innovation, where she served as director.

“She is very passionate about this, not just the company, but the great science and the team that is behind it,” said Susan Froshauer, president and chief executive officer of CURE, a New Haven-based group that represents companies in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries.

ReNetX appointed Smith as part of the recapitalization of the company. Strittmatter is a scientific adviser to ReNetX.

“Spinal cord injury has been a condition so far resistant to treatment by a variety of therapeutic approaches,” Strittmatter said in a statement. “However, based on the research in my laboratory, we believe that we may have an approach that could benefit these patients. Nogo Trap has demonstrated improved neurologic function following central nervous system damage in several animal models.”

ReNetX currently receives development support for Nogo Trap from the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. And now the company is actively seeking financing to provide the capital needed to initiate and complete a clinical trial of Nogo Trap in patients with chronic spinal cord injuries.

Smith said spinal cord injury “is one of the most significant unmet medical needs with an annual cost of more than $5 billion per year.”

“A treatment that could mitigate even only a part of the condition could … improve quality of life of these patients,” Smith said in a statement. “When the funding is in place, we anticipate swift patient recruitment for our chronic spinal cord injury clinical trial. In the long-term, conditions beyond spinal cord injury including glaucoma and stroke.”

Froshauer said positive results from the clinical trials would help ReNetX get even more investors. The new name and the hiring of Smith to lead the company also will help attract additional investment, she said.

“It creates a new interest in the company and opportunity to refresh the marketing of what is a really cool technology,” Froshauer said.

Company officials explain the way Nogo Trap works this way: It is a decoy that keeps the central nervous system from limiting the regrowth of neurons. Nogo Trap allows the body to grow nerve fibers.

In addition to developing drugs for spinal cord injuries, ReNetX is also focused on treatment of injuries and damage to the nervous system in conditions such as glaucoma and stroke.

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