Veralox Therapeutics Sees Frederick as Perfect Place to Grow
With $17.6 million in hand from a recent Series A financing round, Frederick-based Veralox Therapeutics is taking aim at an enzyme known as 12-lipoxygenase (12-LOX) that is at the root of several diseases include heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT) and type 1 diabetes (T1D).
Jeffrey W. Strovel, PhD
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Strovel said the company’s lead asset VLX-1005, a first-in-class small molecule 12-LOX inhibitor under development for the treatment of HIT, has been awarded Orphan Drug Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. With that designation in hand, the company initiated a Phase Ia study assessing VLX-1005 for safety, pharmacokinetics and biomarker activity. HIT is the development of a low platelet count due to the administration of different forms of heparin, an anticoagulant drug. Those low platelet counts are caused by antibodies to complexes of platelet factor 4 (PF4) and heparin. It is estimated that about 12 million people per year in the United States, about one-third of hospitalized patients, receive heparin. HIT is the most frequent drug‐induced type of thrombocytopenia. With the low platelet count in HIT, Strovel said it made sense to focus the company’s initial studies there. He explained that 12-LOX is mainly expressed in the platelet.
“If you can inhibit the target as we understand it that will stop the platelet activation cycle. If it stops that, the downstream terrible events like the deadly thrombosis should be stopped or inhibited,” Strovel explained. He added the company has high hopes for success in this indication, and that VLX-1005 has potential to be the first approved therapy for HIT in over 20 years.

With the Series A financing this summer, Strovel said the company is well positioned to advance VLX-1005 into a Phase Ib study and then a Type C meeting with the FDA regarding a potential Phase II study, which could take place in 2023 if all goes well. The funding round is also enough to support continued development of Veralox’s other, oral 12-LOX-focused medications, including its T1D drug product.

In Type 1 Diabetes, inflammatory signals increase the expression of 12-LOX, which then leads to an overabundance of 12-HETE. That overabundance then stresses β-cells leading to a reduction in insulin production. Strovel said that inhibition of 12-LOX in the pancreas should inhibit 12-HETE, which will then preserve insulin cells. Although it will take some time for Veralox’s research into T1D to pan out, Strovel expressed his hope that the company’s research could provide a potential treatment for these patients, particularly in new-onset patients who have functional β-cells. Inhibiting 12-LOX could provide sustained insulin production in these patients. Strovel added that there could be potential for 12-LOX inhibition in Type 2 diabetes as well.

When Veralox formed three years ago, Strovel said he selected Frederick as its base of operations because of its proximity to the National Institutes of Health, the FDA, multiple companies with highly-skilled staff, and two of the best research hospitals on the East Coast, Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“Everything you need to build a company is here. We selected Frederick because of the advances in life sciences,” Strovel said. “We’re going to grow along with Frederick. It’s the perfect place to grow a company.”
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