Written by Robert Leitch.
When a baby is born prematurely, they often need mechanical ventilation and oxygenation — two medical tools that help keep preemies alive. However, these tools can also lead to inflammation and infection in the lung, which can result in bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). BPD is a lung condition with long-term consequences for most survivors.
Airway Therapeutics, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, is developing a way to prevent BPD by adding a key protein that premature babies are missing with one it has created in the lab. The company’s protein is called AT-100, and it prevents the inflammation and infection shown to cause BPD. AT-100 is added back into a premature infant’s lungs through a catheter in the trachea.
“AT-100’s ability to fight off inflammation and infection allows these babies’ lungs to mature, and prevent issues like pneumonia or asthma that could consequently occur if the lungs do not develop properly,” said Marc Salzberg, president and CEO of Airway Therapeutics.
Airway Therapeutics is a spinout company from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which is ranked among the top three children’s hospitals in the United States by U.S. News and World Report. Dr. Jeff Whitsett, director of the hospital’s neonatology division, discovered the important properties of the developmental proteins that help play a pivotal role in the prevention of BPD. A doctor himself, Salzberg took an immediate interest in Airway Therapeutics’ work and was brought on board to get the company’s technology into hospitals.
“Airway Therapeutics hopes to make the first registered prevention for BPD,” said Salzberg
In 2011, Airway Therapeutics received $1.7 million in seed funding from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and CincyTech, a southwest Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier. In 2014, the company raised an additional $4.7 million in Series A funding from Queen City Angels, another Ohio Third Frontier partner in the area, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, CincyTech and a group of angel investors.
“We used our Series A funding to develop the manufacturing process for AT-100 and to move the regulatory and patent work forward,” said Salzberg.
Airway Therapeutics has proven the concept in a preclinical experiment with AT-100, but will need to run additional tests to confirm the product’s safety. The company plans to start clinical trials in humans by the end of 2017. Salzberg says the company is focusing on expanding its manufacturing systems this year so it can make optimal amounts of AT-100 for clinical development. Expansion will take place in Cincinnati, where the company’s headquarters are located, but the company works with collaborators in the U.S., Canada and Europe as well.
“Ohio is an excellent place for finding the necessary funding for starting a business,” said Salzberg. “When you combine that with our proximity to one of the nation’s top children’s hospitals and our access to talent here in southwest Ohio, we are in a great location for continued growth.”