Chromocell is using its own Chrmovert technology to provide alternative pain blockers to opioids.
Chromocell is a graduate of CCIT. How has the company developed from those early stages, and what support did it receive from the state?
Kambiz Shekdar, a scientist in New York, suggested the establishment of a company around the technology now known as Chromovert. I was working as a lawyer but left the firm to start the company in 2002. Initially, we wanted to establish the company in New York, but we could not find the lab space. Shekdar found an incubator facility, the CCIT in New Jersey, which was reasonably priced and looking for companies. This was a very critical step in starting the company. The New Jersey Economic Development Agency (EDA) was also very supportive in helping us get off the ground. They took care of all of the regulatory advice around protocols that we needed to follow when we started our company.
Our development and growth stemmed from a number of opportunities that presented themselves. Our initial intention was to be a classical bio-medical company. However, at that time, the food industry was on the lookout for taste enhancers, and it so happens that our technology can be applied to create taste receptors as well as to drug discovery. We were therefore asked to create taste receptors, make a high-throughput screening campaign, and look for natural ingredients that could make foods taste more salty or sweet. We were able to build an impressive franchise around flavor applications such as screens for bitter blockers, salt enhancers, sweet enhancers, and so forth. To our delight, big companies like Nestlé and Coca-Cola began to work with us, which remains the case today. These companies allowed us to grow in a special way, but they did not prevent our pursuit to benefit the bio-medical field.
Is the Chromovert technology ever licensed out to companies?
So far, we have kept it in-house, because it involves a lot of specialized technology and know-how. We are not opposed to the idea, but currently focus on proprietary discovery projects and then partner with companies to conduct late stage clinical trials or commercialization.
Chromocell has created the compound CC8464 with Astellas. Could you elaborate on this program and partnership?
The roots of this program lie in a scientific paper reporting a large family clan in Pakistan that does not feel pain, finding that they lack the NaV1.7 gene. Without that gene, one lacks a pain receptor and does not feel pain. The idea was therefore that if there was a way to block NaV1.7 pain receptors in our body, we would have a potentially effective pain blocker. However, this pain receptor is exceedingly difficult to create for a high-throughput campaign, which made it an ideal project for applying our Chromovert technology. Due to the opioid crisis, the pharmaceutical industry has been very eager to find a pain blocker. The NaV space is a hot field because it is seen as an avenue to find something new and effective without the addictive features. When developing a molecule for therapeutic use, it is important for it to be very specific to a particular receptor to avoid side-effects. Chromovert technology and our receptors enable us to find highly-specific molecules.
Since our molecule had high potency and high specificity, we were able to partner with Astellas Pharma, a Japanese company with most of its clinical operations based out of Chicago, at an early stage of the development cycle. The company has a lot of experience with pain research and we entered into an exclusive partnership with them in the NaV1.7 area. They have given us valuable input on the development of the drug towards the proof-of-concept studies in Phase II.
Other than higher efficacy, how else does this compound compare to others in the market?
In order to screen drugs to find new medications, high-throughput screening is required. Creating a receptor suitable for high-throughput screening is often very difficult. Chromocell’s Chromovert technology enables the creation of receptors ideally suited for high-throughput screening and very similar to human receptors, hence giving accurate results in screening campaigns. They are also very stable, which is very important for high-throughput screening.
It is therefore fair to say that there is a large unmet medical need at the moment, and severe pain is a large, unresolved issue. Whilst there are many pain medications available, most are not very effective for severe and chronic pain, and while opioids help, they come with a lot of side effects. There are other companies with impressive programs, but our particular strength and main advantage is the combination of high potency and high specificity in our compound. There is currently nothing available to patients that specifically target the sodium-channel (NaV 1.7) area.
Has the regulatory environment been easy to navigate?
We received fast-track designation from the FDA, and the process has been very smooth. One of the challenges we expect to encounter is recruitment of patients. This program targets a disease called iSFN (idiopathic Small Fiber Neuropathy), which we initially selected because of the large unmet medical need. However, there is only a very small patient population in this area.
Is there anything in Chromocell’s development pipeline besides this compound?
We are also working on NaV1.8, another pain channel, although it is not yet entirely clear how NaV1.7 and NaV1.8 work together. There is some evidence that they balance each other out, or it might be that in the absence of NaV1.7, NaV1.8 can take on some of its functions. NaV1.8 might therefore also be important in blocking pain. This is a pipeline project, and we will eventually look for partners in this area.
Going forward, what are the next steps and objectives for Chromocell?
We hope to get CC8464 to approval and then to market as soon as possible. We are also focused on executing a strategy to build a franchise in the pain and NaV space, which is incredibly fertile ground. We aim to develop Chromocell by adding programs. Over time, we could have a combination of therapeutic pain tools that could be useful in personalized medicine. We are open to collaboration in finding receptors for other diseases where Chromovert technology can provide a critical competitive edge.