Depression drug developer NeuroRx was recently chosen out of dozens of startups as the most innovative life-science company at the 15th annual National Life Sciences and Technology Week (Israel Advanced Technology Industries Biomed Conference).

NeuroRx, a clinical-stage pharmaceutical company that is developing Cyclurad — the first oral therapeutic for the treatment of suicidal crisis associated with bipolar disorder won the IATI-Biomed startup competition.

“Every anti depressive drug on the market today is known to increase the risk for suicide even though it decreases symptoms of depression. Our drug targets a different chemical receptor in the brain first characterized by Dr. Daniel Javitt, who has spent his career understanding the role of the brain’s N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor in psychiatric illness,” said Dr. Jonathan Javitt, founder and CEO of NeuroRx (and Daniel’s brother).

Dr. Daniel Javitt
Dr. Daniel Javitt

NeuroRx recently completed a Phase II clinical trial of Cyclurad, a novel patent-pending combination of two FDA-approved pharmaceuticals, the tuberculosis drug D-cycloserine and the anti-infective drug lurasidone, used in conjuction with ketamine for the treatment of acute suicidal crisis in bipolar depression. The data shows a reduction of symptoms within two hours of treatment and maintaining of that clinical benefit over eight weeks.

NeuroRx is expected to receive FDA approval under a fast track, following completion of clinical trials expected by the end of 2017.

“There is a clear and urgent need for an effective treatment for acute suicidal crisis in bipolar depression, which according to the World Health Organization claims the lives of more than 2,100 individuals around the world each day,” said Daniel Javitt, who chairs NeuroRx’s scientific advisory board.

“We believe that clinical data generated to date on the combination of ketamine and Cyclurad’s drug components suggest that NeuroRx’s approach can potentially prolong the well-established therapeutic impact of ketamine without the negative side effects in suicidal bipolar patients.”

Jonathan Javitt
Dr. Jonathan Javitt

More than three million Americans have bipolar depression, also known as manic depression. Figures show that those with bipolar depression are more than twice as likely to commit suicide compared with patients who have other forms of depression. And patients with treatment-resistant depression cost the healthcare system more than $120 billion annually.

“When someone dies from cancer, we blame the disease and look for a cure. Even though suicide is driven by chemical pathways in the brain, when people die of this disease, we tend to blame the patient. Suicidality has long been viewed as an end stage of depression, when in fact it’s a distinct medical entity that appears to be driven by different brain pathways than those that drive depression,” said Jonathan Javitt.

“We now have exciting Phase II human data, both from Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem and from Columbia University in New York, showing the potential of NMDA antagonist to be of enormous benefit for patients with depression and suicidality.”

The 15th consecutive IATI Biomed drew some 6,000 participants from 45 countries to Tel Aviv. Photo: courtesy
The 15th consecutive IATI-Biomed drew some 6,000 participants from 45 countries to Tel Aviv. Photo: courtesy

China-Israel love continues in Biomed

The 15th consecutive IATI-Biomed drew some 6,000 participants from 45 countries to Tel Aviv for workshops and lectures on immuno-oncology, medical robotics, health IT, personalized medicine, cardiology, neurological disorders, translational research, as well as “new kids on the block” microbiome, gene editing and gene therapy.

China sent several delegations to the event considered to be Israel’s premier international biomedical and life-sciences conference.

Chinese delegates meeting with Israelis at IATI Biomed 2016. Photo courtesy of Israel Innovation Authority
Chinese delegates meeting with Israelis at IATI-Biomed 2016. Photo courtesy of Israel Innovation Authority

Some 20 Chinese companies in the fields of medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and agricultural technology from the provinces of Sichuan, Shandong and Zhejiang sent representatives.

The Israel Innovation Authority also hosted a Chinese delegation of investors (both private and venture funds) focused on life sciences, IT and clean-tech.

“The arrival of the investor delegation is especially important and aims at creating meetings between Israeli companies and potential Chinese investors,” said Avi Luvton, Asia Pacific director at the Israel Innovation Authority.

Leading investment agencies including Ping An, Biossom Investment and Chengdu Kanghong Pharmaceutical Group, owner of seven Chinese pharmaceutical companies, participated in about 500 B2B meetings during Biomed. The goals were to forge business ties between Chinese and Israeli companies, encourage Chinese investment in Israeli companies and maximize Israeli companies’ exposure in the Chinese market.

IATI-Biomed had plenty of space set aside for one-on-one meetings. Photo: courtesy
IATI-Biomed had plenty of space set aside for one-on-one meetings. Photo: courtesy

“The group of high-quality investors invited to the B2B meeting event was carefully selected to create real opportunities for cooperation with the Israeli companies taking part. We were happy to see that there was great demand on the side of Israeli companies,” said Luvton.

“Israel is a supermarket for innovation,” Kuang-Chi Group’s founder and Chairman Liu Ruopeng said in a statement.

In January, Beijing hosted a two-day investors’ conference attended by 150 corporate leaders from 85 Israeli companies.