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Novel therapeutic approach for severe ARDS with a potent pharmacologic allosteric hemoglobin modifier

Award Information
Agency: Department of Health and Human Services
Branch: National Institutes of Health
Contract: 2R44HL156334-02
Agency Tracking Number: R44HL156334
Amount: $745,621.00
Phase: Phase II
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: NHLBI
Solicitation Number: PA22-176
Solicitation Year: 2022
Award Year: 2023
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2023-07-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2026-06-30
Small Business Information
Richmond, VA 23219
United States
DUNS: 116965051
HUBZone Owned: No
Woman Owned: No
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: No
Principal Investigator
 (650) 483-6989
Business Contact
Phone: (609) 707-0139
Research Institution

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a life-threatening condition featuring acute onset of non-
cardiogenic respiratory failure and hypoxemia. Consequently, patients with ARDS have severe hypoxemia due
to a significant impairment of gas exchange, and the goal of supportive therapy is to prevent critical tissue
hypoxia, which can cause acute cardiac arrest and death or have long-term neurologic consequences for
survivors. ARDS affects almost 200,000 individuals annually in the US, leading to rt3.5 million hospital days and
nearly 75,000 deaths. Despite developments in our understanding of protective ventilation strategies and modern
advanced life support techniques, such as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), mortality associated
with ARDS remains unacceptably high and has not improved appreciably in two decades. Indeed, the mainstay
of supportive therapy in the ICU includes improving arterial oxygen (O2) saturation by introducing supplemental
O2 and supporting respiration with mechanical ventilation, but there are limits to the capacity of such measures
to benefit patients. In fact, exposure to a high fraction of O2 may actually increase risk for mortality in critically ill
patients. Similarly, excessive distention from mechanical ventilation can exacerbate acute lung injury, although
the goal of protective lung ventilation is simply to offer mechanical support without inducing harm. Hence,
maximal therapy with supplemental O2 and mechanical ventilation is often not sufficient to sustain life until the
lungs recover. We propose a novel, paradigm shifting therapeutic strategy using a small molecule drug to
enhance supportive care measures and potentially limit the morbidity and mortality of ARDS. Our therapeutic
candidate, VZHE-039.glycine salt, a water-soluble synthetic analog of the natural aromatic aldehyde vanillin, is
a highly potent allosteric modifier of hemoglobin (Hb) that demonstrated its ability to rapidly and potently increase
the capacity of Hb to bind and transport O2 when administered intravenously to pigs. The aromatic aldehyde
constituent of VZHE-039 forms reversible Schiff-base interactions with N-terminal valine amines in the α-cleft of
Hb to allosterically modify Hb by stabilizing its high O2-affinity state. The result is a rapid, pharmacologic shift in
Hb O2 affinity, which can increase the margin of safety to prevent acute desaturation and limit the need for more
invasive mechanical ventilation or additional supplemental O2. This novel approach also has the potential to
delay or even prevent the need for emergent salvage with ECMO. Our goal is to provide definitive evidence of
the potential of this approach by assessing its efficacy in a LPS endotoxin model of severe ARDS in pigs.
Following promising results in our Phase I study demonstrating highly reproducible and dose-dependent
pharmacodynamics achieving shifts in hemoglobin oxygen affinity, a definitive efficacy study in a high fidelity
large animal model would support advancement into a human clinical trial.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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