A drug developed by an independent biotech firm headquartered in Galveston will be tested for clinical application to problems related to COVID-19, thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the federal government to be released June 1.
Chrysalin, or TP508, a regenerative thrombin peptide developed by scientist Darrell Carney, has been tested in human clinical trials for skin and bone tissue repair and, in preclinical studies, has demonstrated the ability to mitigate effects of radiation and traumatic brain injury.
Now, the drug will be tested for use against the cardiovascular problems doctors are finding in some COVID-19 patients, said Carney, CEO and president of Chrysalis BioTherapeutics and principal developer of the drug.
“As we first started learning about COVID-19 and that people most susceptible to complications and death were those with hypertension, diabetes and other cardiovascular problems, we knew that our drug reversed effects on the vasculature of animals in trials,” Carney said.
Human clinical trials will be possible to determine whether TP508 works against blood clotting and other cardiovascular problems seen in COVID-19 patients.
Carney’s journey to a possible treatment of complications related to the newest coronavirus is a tale of knowledge, enterprise and entrepreneurial thinking, all tied to the support of the University of Texas Medical Branch, where Carney was a professor for 36 years, and the university’s partnership with the Galveston Economic Development Partnership’s business incubation program.
“My whole career has been working with thrombin, the enzyme that causes blood to clot,” Carney said. “ A portion of that molecule can initiate wound-healing repair.”
Early success with Chrysalin came when it was shown to help healing of diabetic foot ulcers. Carney’s earlier company, which developed the drug, sold for $30 million with the university still owning about 10 percent, Carney said.
Eventually the technology and license for the product came back to Carney and his new company, Chrysalis BioTherapeutics, 2200 Market St. in Galveston.
While giving a talk at the National Institutes of Health about the healing properties of the thrombin peptide, Carney was asked whether he could keep people alive after a nuclear explosion.
“I said we’d never looked at that kind of thing,” Carney said.
But a large government contract that would provide basic infrastructure for the research for nearly a decade convinced him to do so. His lab now uses those funds to test TP508 as a nuclear countermeasure, the kind of agent the government would stockpile for national defense purposes, and Carney can use government funds to leverage more investor dollars in the product, he said.
COVID-19 and its unique cardiovascular complications led to the extension of more funds from the federal government to test Chrysalin as a potential treatment.
Entrepreneurial ventures such as Carney’s set a standard for new, smaller companies looking to develop and test their biotech products under the umbrella of the medical branch and the Galveston Economic Development Partnership, said Jeff Sjostrom, executive director of the partnership.
Carney worked with Sjostrom from the early years of developing Chrysalin and has spent a good amount of time promoting the entrepreneurial spirit among faculty at the medical branch, he said.
“Chrysalis is a home-grown company and a home-grown success story,” Sjostrom said. “I’m excited about how this and other projects position Galveston as a biotech center, given the presence of the Galveston National Laboratory on the island and the inventory of big thinkers we have here.”
A group of researchers from the medical branch recently created a new ventilator, for example, that could be used in parts of the world where they’re needed but there is no access to a national stockpile, Sjostrom said.
Carney, meanwhile, leads the way with BioTherapeutics and his success at obtaining government funding for his projects.
“I’ve co-chaired a task force on driving entrepreneurial development in Galveston in biotechnology,” Carney said. “I’m trying to mentor a couple of the young companies right now, letting them use lab space in our company while they get started.”