Written by Kevin Volz.
After someone experiences a heart attack, the muscle around their heart is often left damaged and not functioning properly, resulting in chronic heart failure. While most patients turn to traditional prescription medications to control their symptoms, Juventas Therapeutics in Cleveland, Ohio, believes it has found a way for the body’s tissue to heal itself. The company is treating chronic, life-threatening diseases like heart failure by harnessing the power of a molecule that occurs naturally in the body.
Juventas Therapeutics injects additional amounts of this molecule, called SDF-1, into patients to prolong the body’s healing process. Without this injection, the body only activates SDF-1 naturally for about five days — not enough time for tissue to fully repair itself. For example, if someone has a heart attack, turning on their SDF-1 molecule for a few weeks allows the body to use its own stem cells to fix the tissue around the heart and restore its function. This would not be possible without the Juventas Therapeutics injection, called JVS-100.
“JVS-100 takes advantage of the body’s natural processes, which allows us to offer this treatment to patients on a repeat basis,” said Rahul Aras, co-founder, president and CEO of Juventas Therapeutics. “This is a non-viral gene therapy, which means we’re not injecting their cells with a virus that could result in negative immune responses.”
Juventas Therapeutics’ technology is based on research by cardiologist Marc Penn. He discovered the SDF-1 molecule’s repair potential 16 years ago at the Cleveland Clinic. In 2007, Juventas Therapeutics became a standalone company.
In total, Juventas Therapeutics has raised approximately $45 million. Investors include JumpStart, the North Coast Angel Fund (NCAF) and the Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center (GCIC), all northeast Ohio partners of Ohio Third Frontier. The company used the initial funding from JumpStart and NCAF to complete the studies required to further develop the gene therapy technology. Its Series B funding round was dedicated to getting the company through mid-stage clinical studies and preparing for later stage studies.
“Ohio Third Frontier has been a large part of why we’ve been able to get to this point,” said Aras. “The State of Ohio has created a foundation that allows for access to larger pools of capital for startup companies.”
In 2015, Juventas Therapeutics completed a Phase 2 study in heart failure patients, showing that the patients with more advanced disease responded positively to the JVS-100 injection. Since we introduced you to this innovative company in 2014, the company has also completed clinical studies to see if JVS-100 can be used to prevent scar formation following surgery and if it can heal the wounds in patients with advanced peripheral artery disease (PAD). In total, nearly 200 patients have been administered JVS-100. Further testing on larger populations is required, and the company is roughly four years away from receiving FDA approval.
Aras believes his company’s technology has applications beyond cardiovascular problems and wound care, including kidney disease, liver disease and stroke. He says Ohio’s strong foothold in the medical community makes it the optimal place to develop his business.
“Ohio is home to excellent medical institutions, specifically hospitals with a focus in cardiovascular care,” said Aras. “As a company developing a drug that has shown great potential to treat these patients, we are well positioned to help those who currently have very few options.”