Ann Arbor's Velcura Therapeutics spins out startup to repurpose drug for horses
A new licensing deal between two of Ann Arbor’s top biotech entrepreneurs aims to repurpose therapeutic technology to treat bone density problems in horses.
Ann Arbor-based Velcura Therapeutics is licensing its drug technology to Ann Arbor startup FreeStride Therapeutics, which hopes to get the drug approved for the veterinary market within a few years. The companies signed the licensing deal Aug. 20.
David Olson, a former chief scientific officer of celebrated Accuri Cytometers, an Ann Arbor medical devices startup, will serve as chief executive officer of FreeStride.
Michael Long, Velcura founder and CEO, said FreeStride would operate as an independent company. Company officials declined to release details of the licensing deal.
Velcura’s top drug candidate aims to treat rheumatoid arthritis in humans. The company will continue to develop the drug for human applications, but the challenging fundraising environment for life sciences companies led Velcura to consider new possibilities for its technology.
“We’re still, like everybody else, struggling to get (the drug) funded and get it going through clinical trials because the economy is so tough,” Long said. “Because of the way the drug works, it could work in veterinary medicine.”
FreeStride’s first step is to conduct a basic study to ascertain whether horses will consume the drug effectively. The drug may also have applications in other animals, including dogs and cats.
The drug could offer hope for the horse racing community, which has been plagued in recent years by devastating bone injuries to high-profile horses. In 2008, for example, the filly Eight Belles was euthanized on the track at the Kentucky Derby after breaking both of her ankles.
“There’s a strong need for drugs or treatments that are shown to be effective in treating lameness in horses,” Olson said. “Many of the therapies that are currently used are hundreds or thousands of years old. There’s not much out on the market that has any kind of clinical efficacy data associated with it.”
Among the tantalizing aspects of the licensing deal is that the veterinary drug development process is notably quicker and cheaper than the process for human therapies.
Long said Velcura would need another $112 million in capital and at least seven to eight years to reach the market for its drug for humans. But FreeStride hopes to use just $3.5 million to reach the veterinary market within three years.
FreeStride’s first objective is fundraising. The firm will need a seed-stage funding round of about $500,000, Olson said.
Lab specialists at out-of-state clinical research organizations are likely to conduct most of the development of the drug, Olson said. But if the drug reaches the market, it would require a significant investment in a sales operation.
“All of that can be done in Michigan,” Olson said. “We would have no trouble with manufacturing and sales from Ann Arbor.”
Pictured above, from left, David Olson, Michael W. Long and Noura Bashshur pose for a photograph Thursday morning. The trio have formed a new company Free Stride Therapeutics. Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com