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Small Biz Grant Advances Neuro Protection Drugs



13 Aug. 2020. An NIH award to a biotechnology company funds discovery of drugs that protect brain cells from degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. Neurodon LLC in Crown Point, Indiana is receiving a two-year, $2 million Small Business Technology Transfer or STTR grant from National Institute on Aging, part of National Institutes of Health to continue its work.

Neurodon discovers small molecule, or low molecular weight, drugs that protect cell health. The company focuses on preventing cell death implicated in a wide range of diseases including diabetes, stroke, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Drugs discovered by Neurodon then are evaluated in lab cultures and animals for eventual clinical trials.

For Alzheimer’s disease, Neurodon is evaluating a class of drugs called positive allosteric modulators that bind to alternative sites on receptor proteins rather than the usual sites. Positive allosteric modulators enhance the binding affinity with target proteins and boost their cell signals or activity. For Alzheimer’s disease, Neurodon is discovering positive allosteric modulators that protect the network of membranes in cells, in this case neurons, known as the endoplasmic reticulum that packages and transports proteins.

The company says its positive allosteric modulators can protect neurons, thus preventing cell death leading to memory and cognition loss. In an earlier small business award, Neurodon demonstrated a series of molecule drug candidates that in lab tests protected neurons, and in a separate study improved memory and cognitive behavior in lab mice induced with Alzheimer’s disease.

The new grant funds refinement and optimization of the company’s five leading positive allosteric modulator candidates, as well as more preclinical tests in lab cultures and animals. The results are expected to enable Neurodon to carry out further preclinical work to apply for an investigational new drug application with Food and Drug Administration, in effect seeking permission to conduct clinical trials.

STTR grants fund collaborative projects between small businesses and university researchers. For this project, Neurodon is partnering with Purdue University’s Institute for Integrative Neuroscience, as well as preclinical research manager Wendy Koss at Purdue and Gary Schlitz, a research professor at Northwestern University.

“We have brought together scientists and researchers from Purdue and Northwestern who have the expertise to move this forward and eventually provide new options for patients and their families,” says Neurodon’s founder and CEO Russell Dahl in a company statement. Dahl adds, “This grant will help us move forward and much closer to human trials.”

STTR grants are awarded under NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, program that sets aside a portion of its overall research funding for small U.S.-based companies with science-based products. NIH says it invests more than $1 billion in SBIR and STTR awards.

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