Proniras Launches with $89.5 Million BARDA Contract to Treat Chemical Weapons

Nerve Agent

Proniras Corporation, headquartered in Seattle, launched from Accelerator Life Science Partners to treat nerve agents. The company recently received a contract from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for $89.5 million.

The company was formed to develop the drug tezampanel, which was originally developed by Eli Lilly and Co. to treat seizures. The contract starts with $3 million for nine months, but if the company hits a series of milestones, the deal could reach $89.5 million over five years.

The drug’s safety had been shown in 400 patients in clinical trials by Lilly for acute migraines. But Lilly is one of the company’s backers, along with ARCH Venture Partners, Alexandria Venture Investments, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and WRF Capital.

Part of the company’s name, Proniras, is sarin spelled backwards. Sarin is a nerve gas. The company’s co-founder, Christopher Toombs, told The Seattle Times, the name is “not a coincidence at all.”

The company’s chief operating officer, David Schubert, also the chief operating partner at Accelerator Life Science Partners, added, “We’re promoting the reversal of sarin” and other nerve agents.”

“As recent events have clearly demonstrated, the need for medical countermeasures that can effectively treat nerve agent exposure is sadly more than theoretical,” Toombs, also the company’s chief scientific officer, told the Bristol Herald Courier. “Tezampanel holds great potential as a solution to this serious challenge, having shown favorable safety and pharmacokinetic profiles in clinical trials for acute migraine and demonstrating efficacy in preclinical models of nerve agent-induced seizures. Proniras is pleased to have the opportunity to work with BARDA to improve our nation’s health and security preparedness.”

The world’s interest in treatments for nerve gas waxes and wanes. It’s been in the news more prominently lately because of accusations that the Syrian government is using sarin gas in its civil war, and the recent nerve agent attack of two former Russians in England. The attacks in England were of Yulia Skripal and her father Sergei by a nerve agent called Novichok. That attack is believed to have been directed by the Russian government because Sergei Skripal is a former Russian military ingelligence officer who was a double agent for the UK’s intelligence services during the 1990s and early 2000s. In December 2004, he was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) and tried and convicted of high treason and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He moved to the UK in 2010 after a spy swap called the Illegals Program.

Schubert told the Herald Courier, “The robust body of human safety data and clinical, manufacturing and control data, coupled with the results of studies in a rodent model of nerve agent-induced seizures, is very compelling and should substantially reduce the development timeline, cost and risk of developing tezampanel as a medical countermeasure. BARDA has a demonstrated track record of success in establishing public-private partnerships that support effective development of medical countermeasures. In addition to the funding provided under the contract, we expect that BARDA’s insight and expertise in the health preparedness arena will play a key role in the development of tezampanel.”

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