citybiz+ KeViRx Gets $2 Million Grant to Advance Drug to Treat Acute Lung Injury

KeViRx, an early-stage pharmaceutical company, has received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program to advance small molecule technology for acute lung injury, which is believed to impact about 200,000 patients annually.

The Charlottesville, Va., startup focuses on novel molecular targets for cancer and acute lung injury. ​It is a member of Blue Knight, a joint initiative of Johnson & Johnson’s innovation lab, JLABS, and BARDA, or Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, a unit of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. KeViRx has previously received grants from the NIH.

Tech Developed at U. of Virginia

KeViRx was co-founded by Profs. John S. Lazo and Elizabeth R. Sharlow to commercialize technology developed at the University of Virginia. Using technology licensed from the university’s Licensing & Ventures Group, KeViRx has developed small molecule drugs to potentially treat microvascular leakage and inflammation, and pathologies, including cancer and respiratory diseases.

Acute lung injury results from viral infection, sepsis, pneumonia or inhalation of chemical toxins. The most severe form, called acute respiratory distress syndrome, has a mortality rate of up to 40%.

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With a so-called first-in-class small molecule platform technology, KVX-053, KeViRx is bidding to treat pulmonary microvascular leakage and inflammation caused during acute lung injury. The “host-directed, insult-agnostic small molecule” targets the central pathways that are dysfunctional in ARDS. “If we are successful, KVX-053 would be transformative for this disease,” said Lazo, who serves as the company’s chief scientific officer.

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Lazo is an alumnus of University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University, where he received his PhD. Besides University of Virginia, he has taught at Yale and University of Pittsburgh.

KeViRx’s CEO Sharlow, who is research professor emerita (Pharmacology) at the University of Virginia, said the grant gives the company the “opportunity to accelerate the development of KVX-053.” She said the company would continue its collaboration with John Catravas, Sentara chair and professor in Norfolk, Va.-based Old Dominion University’s Frank Reidy Research Center for Bioelectrics. Catravas is an expert on vascular endothelium and vascular inflammation.