SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 8, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- Navigen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. today announced that it has been awarded a new four year contract from the Department of Defense Program, Transformational Medical Technologies (TMT) for the development of Navigen's protein therapeutic, Slit2N, for the treatment of viral hemorrhagic fevers (resulting from exposure to agents such as Ebola or Marburg virus) and anthrax infection. Navigen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. may receive up to $21.5 million in support of development efforts under this new Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) contract HDTRA1-10-C-0054.
The Slit2N technology originated in the laboratory of Dean Li, M.D., Ph.D., director of the University of Utah's Molecular Medicine Program, and is licensed from the University by Navigen. The University of Utah School of Medicine's Molecular Medicine Program is a unique cadre of physician-scientists and basic science researchers collaborating to find solutions to important problems in clinical medicine. In March of 2010, Li and colleagues in the Molecular Medicine Program published a study in Science Translational Medicine showing that Slit2N controlled the otherwise pathologic effects of the inflammatory response to virulent influenza, sepsis, and other potentially deadly infections while allowing the body's immune system to fight the underlying infection. Although inflammation is a healthy part of the body's immune response, when left unchecked it weakens blood vessels and causes them to leak. In the most extreme cases, this vascular leak results in non-cardiogenic shock and organ failure. Li found that Slit2N can prevent the negative effects of inflammation and stabilize blood vessels. The discovery raised the possibility that broad-range therapies could be developed to fight both viral and bacterial infections, such as pandemic flu, sepsis, and even human-made biological agents.
"This is the kind of discovery the Molecular Medicine Program is intended to produce," said Li, a cardiologist and professor of internal medicine. "We've brought together physicians who understand the reality of the clinical world to work with basic scientists on discoveries that translate into real-world answers for patients."
The contract with DTRA announced today is consistent with Navigen's approach to developing early stage science in partnership with university investigators and government agencies. "This agreement illustrates our team's ability to add value to pharmaceutical programs though our significant experience in both science and business," said Brandi Simpson, the Navigen Chief Business Officer. "This program provides the scientific and financial resources to significantly advance this technology toward our ultimate goal of creating a novel therapy for dangerous pathogens." Added Hunter Jackson, CEO of Navigen, "We are gratified by the enthusiasm DTRA has shown for the potential usefulness of this technology as a novel approach to a critical biodefense need. In addition, this Navigen technology may be useful in treating a variety of other disorders such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, age-related macular degeneration, pulmonary fibrosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Navigen is actively engaged in partnerships with other government agencies to support and speed development of therapies in these and other areas."
Slit2N is a biologically active fragment of the protein Slit2. Slit2, in turn, is one of a family of guidance cues that the body uses to regulate the growth of nerve fibers and blood vessels. Central to the potential therapeutic value of Slit2 and Slit2N is that they activate the Robo4 receptor, leading to stabilization of the endothelial wall lining the inside of blood vessels. This, in turn, inhibits pathologic growth of blood vessels (as in cancer or age-related macular degeneration [AMD]) and also reduces vascular leak caused by inflammatory agents. Reducing or preventing this vascular leak is a novel approach to treating a variety of diseases characterized by a fulminating immune response known as "cytokine storm" which, when uncontrolled, can lead to tissue edema, fever, organ failure, and death. References to scientific reports providing more information about Slit2N can be found on Navigen's web site: www.navigenpharma.com.
About the Defense Threat Reduction Agency
The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) was founded in 1998 to integrate and focus the capabilities of the Department of Defense (DoD) that address the threat by weapons of mass destruction (WMD). DTRA's mission is to safeguard the United States and its allies from chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive WMDs by providing capabilities to reduce, eliminate, and counter the threat and mitigate its effects. DTRA combines DoD resources, expertise, and capabilities to ensure the United States remains ready and able to address present and future WMD threats. For more information on DTRA, visit www.dtra.mil.
About Transformational Medical Technologies (TMT)
TMT was created by DoD to protect the Warfighter from emerging and genetically engineered biological threats by discovering and developing a wide range of medical countermeasures through enhanced medical research, development, and test and evaluation programs. The TMT Program Office is matrixed from the Joint Science and Technology Office—DTRA and Joint Program Executive Office—Chemical and Biological Defense with oversight from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. For more information on TMT, visit www.tmti-cbdefense.org.
SOURCE Navigen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.