Novo Biosciences Inc., a spinoff of the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, will use $1.5 million in federal research funding to study the effectiveness of a potential regenerative medicine therapy for heart attack patients.
The Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health, announced last week, means that Novo Biosciences can move ahead with studies of the effectiveness of a compound known as MSI-1436.
MDI scientist Voot P. Yin said in a telephone interview that the grant will allow scientists to test the compound on pigs, who have a “striking similarity to humans” in terms of the heart’s physiology and response to an injury like an acute heart attack.
Kevin Strange, CEO of Novo Biosciences and president of MDI, added that the study is due to launch on Oct. 1 and will take about two years.
Assuming a green light after that from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Novo Biosciences will seek investment to help finance moving the drug through multi-stage clinical trials, a process that could take a decade or more and require tens of millions of dollars.
“Clinical trials are very expensive,” Strange noted. “They’re very complicated and involve lots of people, lots of patients.”
MSI-1436 is a natural compound that was originally discovered in the dogfish shark at MDI in the 1990s by Michael A. Zasloff, who is now scientific director of the MedStar-Georgetown Transplant Institute at Georgetown University.
Following up on Zasloff’s hunch that the compound might also stimulate regeneration, Yin tested the compound for its ability to regenerate heart muscle tissue in zebrafish, and then in mice. In mice, it improved heart function, increased survival, reduced scarring and stimulated the proliferation of heart muscle cells.
“What we have discovered here is really the first small molecule and the only one to date that has been shown to activate regeneration of the mammalian heart following a heart attack,” said Strange. “Assuming it works in humans, it will be very exciting.”
Yin said that “we’re not reinventing the wheel” but rather “reawakening” dormant genetic circuits for regeneration of heart muscle cells in mammals.