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Former Idera Pharma CEO at Helm of AesRx, New Startup With Sickle Cell Drug

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hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. The abnormality causes red blood cells to change from their normal rounded-disc shape into crescent, or sickle, shapes. The rigid, sickle-shaped cells can get backed up in tiny capillaries in the body, leading to extreme pain and damage to organs. The disease is most prevalent in people with sub-Saharan African, Indus, Saudi Arabian, and Mediterranean heritage, and the average person with the disease dies in their 40s, according to AesRx. The firm’s drug is designed to improve the ability of the abnormal hemoglobin in sickle cells to carry oxygen, enabling the diseased cells to maintain their normal round shape, according to Seiler.

Still, it’s difficult to raise venture capital nowadays, especially for product-focused companies like AesRx that build their businesses around licensing or acquiring products to advance to the market rather than developing a scientific platform that could yield multiple product opportunities, such as RNA-interference. Seiler acknowledges that product-focused companies aren’t in vogue at the moment, but he also noted that they could come back into fashion with venture investors as well. Seiler definitely has experience in raising money for biotech firms with his experience as CEO of Idera, Effective Pharmaceuticals, and Access Pharmaceuticals. He was also senior vice president of business development for Irish drug maker Elan in the 1990s.

Seiler’s started strong in building AesRx’s leadership team. The headliner on his board of directors is Maggie LeFlore, a managing director of MedImmune Ventures, a venture fund owned by London drug giant AstraZeneca. Yet MedImmune Ventures is not an investor in AesRx because sickle cell disease is not a condition in which AstraZeneca has a strategic interest, LeFlore told me in an e-mail.

AesRx also isn’t a one-trick pony; it got a second drug candidate in its pipeline dubbed Aes-210 for a chronic bowel disease called ulcerative colitis. But the main focus of the company is still to get the sickle cell drug into clinical trials, Seiler said.

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