Story excerpt provided by Seamus Kelleher.
Sometimes you know you’ve got something special, but don’t quite know what it is yet. That was the case for Dr. Robert Shalwitz, CEO of Invirsa in Columbus, Ohio. As a pediatric endocrinologist who spent much of his career in pharmaceutical research and development, Shalwitz considered the potential of one molecular compound for years, not knowing how exactly it might be used. He found his answer in viral conjunctivitis, or pink eye, an acute eye infection that affects approximately 5 million Americans per year. Until now, there was no known effective treatment.
“It’s not a standard antiviral therapy. Our treatment works by enhancing the immune response within your cells, and by helping to improve the wound healing and stabilizing the cells. It makes them better able to fight off the infection much more quickly,” said Shalwitz. “That’s the big difference with our compound— to improve wound healing without the need for steroids and without the potential for significant side effects.”
Currently, doctors typically treat conjunctivitis cases with a combination of steroids and antibiotics and hope for positive results. This approach can be problematic for two main reasons; antibiotics are ineffective in treating viral infections, and steroids come with the risk of a variety of harmful side effects. Using steroids for a common disease such as conjunctivitis justifiably makes a lot of ophthalmologists uneasy. Dr. Shalwitz considers Invirsa’s solution, one without steroids or antibiotics, much more practical.
Invirsa’s CEO has successfully navigated the long and complex process of pharmaceutical research, development and FDA approval many times before. Despite having over 20 years of experience in the industry and a successful public offering under his belt, Shalwitz may be most excited about the potential of Invirsa and its game-changing compound, INV-102.
“The compound was initially found to be effective in treating radiation injury. We’ve extended the efficacy to viral disease, in particular to the virus that causes severe pink eye,” said Shalwitz. “This compound has been known for decades but never really understood. Until somewhat recently, researchers thought it harmed cells, but it turns out they didn’t understand what they were seeing.”
Invirsa received funding from Rev1 Ventures, a central Ohio partner of Ohio Third Frontier, and credits their support for much of the pharmaceutical startup’s early success. Rev1 was their significant outside investor, and the funding directly contributed to the testing that provided the critical proof of concept needed to advance Invirsa’s research. It also enabled the company to complete additional patent work to protect the intellectual property of their promising compound.
Dr. Shalwitz is encouraged by the progress he’s seen with startups in Ohio over the last few years, particularly with the advancements made in the biotech field.
“I think Columbus is great for startups and biotech companies. Central Ohio has many of the necessary resources for drug development with The Ohio State University, Nationwide Children’s and Battelle. There’s chemical manufacturing nearby, as well as resources in both Cincinnati and Cleveland. I think people are pushing very hard to make biotech happen in this region and we hope to be a part of that.”