Diabetes is an increasingly common disease in the United States, affecting 29 million people, or 9.3 percent of the total population. Its effects on the cardiovascular system are debilitating over time, resulting in the hardening and narrowing of blood vessels, particularly characterized by loss of vision and numbness in the hands and feet. This poor circulation can ultimately result in complete loss of vision or amputation of the limbs. Aerpio in Cincinnati, Ohio, is developing a treatment for non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), a disease that, if left untreated, affects the eyesight of millions of diabetics across the globe.
Aerpio’s treatment is administered subcutaneously, or under the skin like diabetic insulin treatment, and can be handled by the patient. The only current treatment for NPDR is expensive and administered by injection into the eye, exposing patients to uncomfortable needles on a regular basis. Aerpio believes it’s developing more convenient, less expensive, more effective treatment than any of its competitors.
“We’re developing new-to-the-world approaches for treating diabetic complications, particularly diabetic eye disease. We expect it to have an impact in the eye, but we’re also confident it will have an impact on other diabetic complications like wound healing, peripheral artery disease and problems in the lower extremities,” said Dr. Joseph Gardner, President and CEO of Aerpio Therapeutics. “It’s the most exciting program I’ve worked on in my 30 years of drug development, bringing something completely novel to the world. This therapy can tackle a really serious, common problem that only seems to be growing in the U.S.”
Gardner spent 22 years in pharmaceutical development at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati. In his role as Research & Development Director at P&G Pharmaceuticals, his team made many compound discoveries that led to eventual spin-off companies, like Akebia and Aerpio. Akebia, led by Gardner and Dr. Robert Shalwitz of Invirsa, developed a treatment for anemia and drew one of the largest venture-backed investment rounds in Ohio biomedical history. Aerpio’s technology spun out from Akebia discoveries led by Dr. Kevin Peters, Akebia’s Chief Science Officer, and Gardner and Peters left Akebia before it went public in 2013 to join Aerpio.
Aerpio has raised upwards of $40 million in 2017. The startup is supported by CincyTech, a southwest regional partner of Ohio Third Frontier, as well as venture capital firms in Silicon Valley, Boston and New York. Aerpio is active in the #StartupCincy scene, leaning on the network of entrepreneurs for support in the early days of the company, attending and participating in community events.
Aerpio offices are in Blue Ash, Ohio, and they lease laboratory space from the University of Cincinnati. While they recognize many of the big names in pharmaceutical development are on the coasts, they’re confident they’re at an advantage in Ohio.
“The cost of living, working, everything is so much lower in Ohio. We have excellent medical resources, and if we need to travel to meet with investors, we’re centrally located. These factors make Ohio a sweet spot for us,” said Gardner. “We are on the early wave of therapy development and blazing a trail for others. We love it and we’re excited to continue our growth in Ohio.”