University of Minnesota and start-up to develop antidote to cyanide poisoning

February 9, 2012

Cyanide poisoning is often fatal and typically affects victims of industrial accidents, terrorist attacks, or structural fires. Based on research conducted at the Center for Drug Design at the University of Minnesota, startup Vytacera Pharma Inc. will develop and market Sulfanegen, a treatment for cyanide poisoning. Sulfanegen could be administered by first responders in the case of a mass casualty emergency, or to victims of smoke inhalation from a house fire.

Cyanide poisoning prevents the body from using oxygen. Hydrogen cyanide, a colorless gas, is released into the air when certain types of plastics and other burn. A victim who inhales too much experiences dizziness, , convulsions and . The key to survival for these victims is rapid and appropriate treatment, but current treatments require an intravenous injection by a medical professional and can require upward of 20 minutes to take effect.

"There is no effective cyanide antidote that can be administered rapidly," said Steve Patterson, co-inventor and associate director of the university's Center for Drug Design, where Sulfanegen was invented. "In the case of a mass casualty situation, the wouldn't be able to treat most of the victims. Sulfanegen can be administered rapidly by intra-muscular injection, so emergency responders could treat people faster. And it takes far less skill to use an auto-injector than it does for an ."

The antidote also functions as a prophylactic, and could protect firefighters or emergency personnel if taken prior to cyanide exposure.

"There is a critical need for better treatments for , ones that are more user-friendly," said Vit Lauermann, CEO of San Francisco Bay Area-based Vytacera. "Sulfanegen could be a big step toward fulfilling that need."

"We intend to move forward as rapidly as financing and regulations permit," added Jon S. Saxe, chair of Vytacera. "Our goal is to make this important advance available to those in need of it and to enable governments to be better prepared, which, ultimately, may help deter terrorism."

Sulfanegen will require FDA approval. The drug candidate has rapid approval potential under the FDA Animal Rule, which holds that only animal efficacy experiments and Phase I safety clinical trials are required for regulatory approval; the compound has already demonstrated safety and efficacy in several animal models.

Sulfanegen was invented by Patterson; Robert Vince, director of the Center for Drug Design; and Herbert Nagasawa, adjunct at the Center for Drug Design and adjunct professor of medicinal chemistry. The research was funded by the Center for Drug Design and the National Institutes of Health CounterACT (Countermeasures Against Chemical Threats) program, an effort involving a number of NIH institutes that enhances the nation's diagnostic and treatment response capabilities during a chemical emergency.

The technology was licensed exclusively to Vytacera by the university's Office for Technology Commercialization.

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