Pharma, Startups

Neuro Vigor repurposing blood pressure drug for multiple sclerosis

Neuro Vigor, a startup based in Indiana, has a new theory for what causes multiple sclerosis — and has found a generic hypertension drug that could potentially be repurposed to treat an array of neurodegenerative diseases.

MedCity News has partnered with BioCrossroads to provide coverage focused on Indiana’s next generation of growth and innovation in life sciences.

Indiana startup Neuro Vigor has found a new use for a long-approved hypertension drug-treating neurodegenerative disease like neuropathies, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.

The Purdue University spinout is built on 15 years of research from neuroscientist Riyi Shi. It was founded in 2013, is largely self-funded and is still in preclinical development — but shows promise for a speedy regulatory pathway and, ideally, an effective drug.

Shi posits that a substance called acrolein, when found in the body, acts as a neurotoxin that directly attacks nerve cells — their membranes, DNA and mitochondria — so they degenerate. This triggers a vicious cycle when you have a neurological disease or spinal cord injury, CEO Mark Van Fleet said. This is because the presence of acrolein exacerbates oxidative stress — a mechanism heavily linked to neurodegenerative disease.

The company is repurposing hydralazine, a generic drug that’s been approved for hypertension for decades. Shi has found that in vitro and in animal models, hydralazine can bind to and lower acrolein levels in the body.

“We think this implies we have an interesting new treatment for progressive multiple sclerosis,” Van Fleet said.

There have been some promising results regarding acrolein’s link to disease, Van Fleet said. For instance, Shi conducted a study with the Indiana University School of Medicine that found that patients with multiple sclerosis had almost double the level of acrolein as the control subjects did.

Neuro Vigor has licensed hydralazine for multiple sclerosis, neuropathic pain and Parkinson’s disease — though will start studying MS as its first target indication. It achieved patents for its approach to multiple sclerosis just last month, Van Fleet said.

“We are discussing collaborative approaches with various private companies, and also talking to some large pharma companies to expedite our entrance into the clinic,” Van Fleet said.

Intellectual property protection is a key concern of Neuro Vigor, given that it’s repurposing a generic.  Because hydralazine is an off-patent, approved drug, Van Fleet expects the company will be able to skip Phase 1 trials and take the 505B2 pathway to Phase 2. Neuro Vigor still needs to strengthen its preclinical work before it approaches the FDA, and is looking to raise between $300,000 and $500,000 to handle this next phase of study.