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Baxter Acquires Sickle-Cell Prevention Drug Developer

Red blood cells with sickle cell disease

Red blood cells with sickle cell disease (NIH.gov)

10 July 2014. Baxter International in Deerfield, Illinois is acquiring AesRx LLC, a biopharmaceutical company in Newton, Massachusetts developing drugs for sickle-cell and other rare diseases. Baxter is making an initial payment to AesRx, which will be eligible for future payments tied to development and commercial milestones, but dollar amounts were not disclosed.

Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder affecting hemoglobin that delivers oxygen to cells in the body. People with sickle cell disease have hemoglobin molecules that cause blood cells to form in an atypical crescent or sickle shape. That abnormal shape causes the blood cells to break down, lose flexibility, and accumulate in tiny capillaries, leading to anemia and periodic painful episodes. The disease is prevalent worldwide, and affects 70,000 to 80,000 people in the U.S., including about 1 in 500 people of African descent.

AesRx’s lead drug candidate is a small molecule drug taken orally, code-named Aes-103, that aims to prevent the sickling process in hemoglobin. The company says Aes-103 binds to and stabilizes hemoglobin in a state with a high affinity for oxygen, which helps keep blood cells round rather than bending into a crescent or sickle shape. Aes-103 also helps stabilize membranes on red blood cells, allowing the cells to maintain their flexibility and preventing the membranes from breaking down, causing premature cell death.

The compound was first developed at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, which AesRx licensed from the university for further development and commercialization. In 2010, NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences teamed with AesRX to develop Aes-103 through an intermediate-stage clinical trial. That trial, testing safety and efficacy of Aes-103 at various dosage levels against a placebo, is now recruiting participants. NIH says in a statement that before its collaboration, the company had difficulty raising capital on its own for development of a therapy deemed too financially risky.

AesRx has two more drugs in development. Aes-107 is another anti-sickling agent, which the company says in lab tests has a potency of 5 to 10 times that of Aes-103. AesRx is also developing a treatment for inflammation in the bowel, code-named Aes-210, a reformulation of the anti-fungal drug clotrimazole being tested in an intermediate-stage clinical trial.

Baxter says Aes-103 is expected to enlarge its line of drugs for blood disorders. In April, Baxter acquired Chatham Therapeutics, a developer of gene therapy to treat hemophilia.

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