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15 May, 2020 - 09:29 By Tony Quested

Cambridge-backed venture wins €3.6m for COVID-19 project

An Irish biopharma business backed by Cambridge Innovation Capital has been awarded €3.6 million to help uncover a new use of the licensed drug therapy imatinib for the treatment of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) induced by COVID-19.

Exvastat (Ireland) Ltd has secured the grant from the Innovative Medicines Initiative after a highly competitive process.

Exvastat will collaborate with Vrije Universitat, Amsterdam Medical Center, KABS (Canada) and Simbec-Orion to produce a reformulated version of the drug and test it in critically ill COVID-19 patients. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has focused attention on ARDS as a very serious condition with a high mortality rate and for which there are currently no approved therapies, even though it causes more fatalities every year than breast or prostate cancer,” said David Cavalla, CEO of Exvastat. 

“We are using a repurposing strategy backed by strong intellectual property and good preclinical as well as human validation of the effect of the drug to reduce pulmonary oedema; we now intend to reformulate and fast-track clinical development for this serious condition.”

The trial will investigate the potential benefit to COVID-19 patients who lack any approved therapeutic options and enter intensive care, the critical juncture of maximum stress on healthcare resources. 

The trial is expected to enrol 110 COVID-19 patients following a 4- 6 month reformulation programme. Unlike antiviral approaches, imatinib operates through the inhibition of the host response, reducing the pulmonary oedema that is correlated with mortality in all forms of ARDS; it is therefore anticipated to be a robust mechanism against viral mutations. 

Imatinib is a well-described drug with a proven safety history that has shown significant promise as a potential treatment for ARDS based on preclinical studies carried out in European and US institutions, as well as multiple clinical case reports of benefit in closely related conditions.

Dr Robert Tansley, Life Sciences Partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital and chairman at Exvastat, said: “We would like to congratulate Exvastat and its collaborators on their receipt of this prestigious award which recognises the importance of developing novel treatments for ARDS. 

“We are proud to continue to support the team in their development of this important initiative.”

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