Safety Analyses Lead Sangart to Move Ahead with ‘Oxygen Therapeutic’

Xconomy San Diego — 

Encouraging results in a second mid-stage trial of an oxygen-carrying compound has prompted San Diego’s Sangart to draw on an additional $50 million from Leucadia National (NYSE: LUK), a diversified New York holding company that is Sangart’s majority owner.

Sangart, which has been developing the compound to counter traumatic blood loss, says the additional funding (from convertible warrants held by Leucadia) represents the second half of a $100 million Series G round that Sangart closed just over a year ago. The company, founded in 1998 to advance work on a blood substitute begun by the late Robert M. Winslow, says it has raised more than $280 million since inception.

The biopharmaceutical company avoids referring to its lead product as a blood substitute, however. Rather, Sangart calls MP4OX an “oxygen therapeutic,” an oxygen-carrying molecule that has been modified from human hemoglobin and pegylated so the compound can reach oxygen-starved tissue before releasing its O2 cargo.

The company says it was encouraged to press forward following interim safety analyses done by an independent data monitor committee. Sangart says the committee unanimously recommended that Sangart’s Phase 2b trauma study involving MP4OX should continue without modification. The experimental compound is being used to help perfuse and oxygenate tissues at risk from the effects of acute blood loss and hemorrhagic shock.

Sangart CEO Brian O’Callaghan told me during a Memorial Day call that proceeds of the deal will be used to fund the company’s continuing operations and to complete the mid-stage trial, which is expected to conclude near the end of this year. Sangart also plans to break ground in Cork, Ireland, for construction of a new commercial manufacturing facility.

The company still must proceed to late-stage trials, but if all goes according to plan, Sangart plans to first seek approval for its compound from European regulators.

Sangart has designed its MP4 molecule to work much like human hemoglobin. The company also uses its MP4 molecule to deliver precise amounts of carbon monoxide to help stabilize the hemoglobin of patients with sickle cell disease. O’Callaghan said the additional funding also will help Sangart advance its experimental MP4CO product for treating sickle cell disease. “The sickle cell program is now in the clinic, and catching up fast to the MP4 program,” O’Callaghan said.

MP4CO is designed to carry carbon monoxide, which at low doses can reduce inflammation and have other beneficial effects for people with sickle cell anemia. As O’Callaghan once told me, “small amounts of carbon monoxide have an un-sickling effect.” Once the carbon monoxide therapy had the intended effect, the MP4OX would be used to oxygenate the lungs and to carry oxygen to tissues.