San Diego Startup, Hera Therapeutics, Unveils Drug For Viral Infections Tied To Cervical Cancer

San Diego Startup, Hera Therapeutics, Unveils Drug For Viral Infections Tied To Cervical Cancer San Diego Startup, Hera Therapeutics, Unveils Drug For Viral Infections Tied To Cervical Cancer

August 22, 2014

By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Researchers with San Diego-based Hera Therapeutics recently presented findings in Seattle at the 29th Annual International Papillomavirus Conference supporting a potential antiviral treatment for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The company, founded and run by emeritus professor of medicine at UC San Diego, Karl Hostetler, sponsored the research performed by Louise Chow and Thomas Broker at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. and can cause cervical cancer and other cancers, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and oropharyngeal cancer. Two vaccines are marketed to prevent HPV infections, Merck’s Gardasil®, and GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix®. Although there are more than 40 subtypes of HPV that can infect the genital area, HPV 16 and HPV 18 are responsible for more than 70% of all cervical cancers. Despite the vaccines’ availability, they have been politically charged and adoption by the public has been slow. According to a national immunization survey only about 38% of eligible girls received all thee inoculations against HPV in 2013 and only about 14% of boys.

If the Hera Therapeutics antiviral is proven to be effective, it would not be a preventative measure, but a potential treatment. The drug, HTI-1968, blocks viral DNA synthesis in three HPV subtypes. Hera expects to complete pre-clinical studies in the next year or so and hopes to develop HTI-1968 as a topical treatment for chronic HPV infections caused by subtypes 16 and 18.

Earlier this year Hera Therapeutics raised $1.1 million in equity financing from 14 investors. A July SEC filing indicated the company plans to sell an additional $200,000 in equity as part of their continuing financing. This followed a 2013 equity financing deal in which the company raised about $1.1 million from 18 investors.

Hera Therapeutics is part of Janssen Labs, which is part of Johnson & Johnson’s external R&D engine or incubator. The Janssen Labs network is made up of a 40,000 square foot facility in San Diego at Janssen’s West Coast Research Center, as well as a 30,000 square foot standalone facility in South San Francisco opening next year, and dedicated space within Lab Central in Boston. Companies involved only pay for the space they need with an option to expand when necessary.

Although the early studiesof HTI-1968 are promising, they are very early and will require significantly more study. Hostetler said, “It’s early, so we shouldn’t hype it too much. But the antiviral studies look pretty good.”

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