BIO 2008/Companies to Watch: CoDA Therapeutics

Recently, a New Zealand construction worker had his eye sprayed with concrete as it splashed back from a high-pressure hose.  The alkaline content of the cement burned off the epithelium – the thin layer of cells that cover the surface of the cornea — of the worker’s eye. He was told there were no conventional treatments that would help and that the injury would leave him blind. But this is the age of BioTech and of miracles.

CoDA Therapeutics of New Zealand (www.codatherapeutics.com/) was able to secure a “compassionate use” approval to try their experimental medicine, Nexagon on the victim. Nexagon was not yet in clinical trials and not approved for human use.

CoDA researchers had been investigating “gap junction proteins“, the body system that allows cells to “talk” to one another.  The researchers found that when tissue is damaged, those proteins increase, alerting neighboring cells of the trouble. This communication spreads from the dying cells to health ones, causing the good cells to die as well, and spreading the damage.

Using that discovery, CoDA researchers set out to find a way to interrupt the cellular communications, limiting the spread of damage to neighboring healthy cells. The result was Nexagon, a gel designed to slow or stop the formation of gap junction proteins, limiting the cellular “communications”, slowing the spread of damage and inflammation and allowing the body‘s natural healing capacity to take over.

After one application of Nexagon to the injured man’s epithelium, doctors noticed an immediate and remarkably rapid healing of the cells. Results could be seen in the first 24 hours and within weeks, the man who was supposed to be blind had 20/20 vision.

The underlying concept of Nexagon’s success has broad application in the field of “wound healing” both from injury as well as surgery. And it appears that in the world of human cells, sometimes the less talk, the better.