Angel Investment Co – Zocere in MedCity News

New Mexico startup looks to bring to market a drug to stop brain injury during stroke

March 14, 2014 5:58 am by of MedCity News

One of the most challenging things about the gold standard for stroke treatment, the drug tPA, is that to most effectively prevent long-term brain damage, it has to be given within three hours of stroke onset.

A New Mexico drug startup called Zocere isn’t trying to replace tPA, but rather to act as a protector to neurons in the brain during stroke.

“We see an opportunity for a vial of our product to sit on an ambulance or in an emergency room to protect the neurons until treatment can be given,” said Wayne Laslie, president and CEO of Zocere.

Between 80 and 90 percent of strokes are caused by blood clots that interrupt blood flow to the brain. tPA, the only FDA-approved drug for stroke, dissolves that clot and restores blood flow to the brain. But it’s used cautiously by medical professionals, as breaking down clots can cause damaging bleeding into the brain.

Zocere’s goal is to protect neurons from both potential sources of injury – from oxygen and glucose deprivation caused by the clot and from rapid reperfusion when that clot breaks up.

The injectable ­drug it’s developing is a derivative of a naturally occurring enzyme in the brain called tyrosine phosphatase and acts on a pathway called NMDAR. Overactivation of NMDA receptors is known to be a key contributor of brain damage following a stroke.

While many other researchers in the past have attempted to block the pathway, none have been able to do so effectively and without significant side effects, Laslie said.

“Our drug works far downstream in that pathway, and we speculate there should be fewer side effects,” he said.

In rodent models of ischemic stroke, it’s demonstrated the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and reduce brain damage, according to Laslie.

Laslie has spent time in various leadership roles at Myriad Pharmaceuticals (now Myrexis) and Pfizer, and was brought in to Zocere, formerly known as Tyrosine Pharma, to put a pre-clinical development plan in place. Now that that’s complete and the company has secured rights to develop the drug from the University of New Mexico, the company is moving toward IND-enabling studies.

Founded in early 2013, Zocere is developing a peptide discovered by Dr. Surojit Paul at UNM. Paul scored a $1.6 million NIH grant, and Zocere later added funding by raising $500,000 from the New Mexico Angels. Laslie said he’ll be reaching out to other funding groups and potential partners to help the company get through preclinical studies.

In the spectrum of technologies in the pipeline for stroke diagnosis and treatment, Zocere’s falls at the early treatment stage. Other approaches to treatment being developed right now include devices to get tPA to the brain quicker and stem cell techniques to repair or replace damaged cells.

Stroke is the second-leading cause of death worldwide and a common cause of long-term disability.

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