Healing open wounds – Israeli startup on the way to a solution

Dr. Tamar Tennenbaum: We’ve seen a dramatic effect on wound healing behavior. For a renowned dermatologist known worldwide for her research in the field of wound healing, there is an air of informality about Dr. Tamar Tennenbaum. But the woman …

Dr. Tamar Tennenbaum: We’ve seen a dramatic effect on wound healing behavior.

For a renowned dermatologist known worldwide for her research in the field of wound healing, there is an air of informality about Dr. Tamar Tennenbaum.

But the woman called ‘Tammy’ by everyone from new acquaintances to long time employees of the company she founded four years ago – HealOr – doesn’t let the friendly atmosphere in her office interfere with the task at hand: the Israeli company’s development of groundbreaking products to treat three sorts of chronic wounds: diabetic, venous and pressure ulcers.

Finding a time slot in the middle of an incredibly hectic week of meetings, presentations, and testing, Tennenbaum explains to ISRAEL21c the increasing urgency within the international medical community to discover a solution to healing chronic wounds, which surpasses 8.5 million in the US and Europe.

“There are two factors – the population in the US is aging and there are more and more diabetics,” she said. “Diabetic ulcers and venous ulcers affect a large percentage of the aging population and people who are overweight, and pressure ulcers are usually found in aging patients who are either paralyzed or in institutions where they can’t be repositioned often enough. These types of condition are increasing rapidly and becoming a real threat to Western society. And there’s been no proven success in therapies now on the market.”

Standard therapy with compression dressings or surgical products provides 50% to 60% of complete venous ulcers healing, but within six months with a recurrence rate as high as 70%. The result is that the economic healthcare cost surpassed $15 billion annually in the US and Europe.

HealOr’s therapy called HO/03/03 – which was developed by Tennenbaum over years of research in her lab at Bar Ilan University – has achieved far better results in animal trials which took place and in human clinical trials which are currently taking place in three hospitals throughout Israel.

“The HO/03/03 has shown to induce healing of non-healing diabetic ulcers and other types on chronic wounds as well as to significantly shorten time to heal and improve esthetics of chronic wounds,” she said.

“We’ve admitted up to date 13 diabetic patients into the study, and the patients are all responding to the treatment. We accepted only patients who have unsuccessfully gone through standard care in wound-healing clinics. Our trials have shown that 80% of the wounds achieve closure between three weeks and three months. We’ve shown this in animal models and now in clinical trials on humans, we’ve seen a dramatic effect on wound healing behavior.”

For Tennenbaum, the achievement is the result of a long road of studies and research that culminated in her founding HealOr to turn the research into therapy.

“I did my post doc work on skin cancer at the NIH, and then returned to Israel where I established my own lab at Bar Ilan University. It was there, about four years ago that I became interested in founding my own company, based on research results we obtained at the lab,” she said. “In the company we took the research and went on developing it in a therapeutic approach for dealing with the most advanced problems for chronic non-healing wounds.”

HealOr’s solution is based on a family of enzymes called Protein Kinase C (PKC), that instruct the skin to complete certain tasks at certain times during the wound healing process. Where one isoform of PKC may be involved in wound closure, another one may be responsible for keeping the wound uninfected or ensuring that the epidermal cells remain unscarred. By isolating particular isoforms and their respective inhibitors and activators, HealOr can moderate and stimulate certain steps of the wound healing process that are not working properly.

“Our therapy focuses on understanding the molecular mechanism than underlies the promotion of wound healing and skin care in general. We’re trying to introduce a new rationale in skin care,” she said.

Unlike existing therapies that target only a single stage of the wound healing process, HO/03/03 affects almost every stage of the healing process: it protects the wound area from external pathogens; it halts the inflammation response; and it expedites dermal closure to ensure optimal wound healing and return of skin aesthetics.

Situated in Rehovot’s Industrial park, HealOr has raised a financing of $4.5 million from the private sector and $1.5 million from the Israeli Industry and Trade Ministry.

It is currently working towards another financing round designated for the completion of the second phase of clinical trials.

Tennenbaum expects to receive an FDA approval to conduct clinical trials in the US this year, and she said that the gravity of the chronic wound problem in the US could mean that the FDA may approve of an accelerated track for HO/03/03, a significant step for HealOr, as it would enable substantial savings in time and R&D costs.

“Today, wound healing is regarded by the FDA as a life threatening therapy, so that they deal with the issue seriously. They want to see wound closure and we promise we can give it to them. We’re aiming at an accelerated track because of the acute need for a solution. They’ve seen the results, and they’re very different results from previous trials related to wound healing impairment,” said Tennenbaum.

Helping HealOr get its footing in the US are two wound healing heavyweights – Dr. Peter Sheehan, the head of the wound healing association at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and Dr. Harold Brem, director of the department of wound healing at the Columbia University, NY.

The jump for Tennenbaum over the last four years from purely scientific research to clinical research has been exhilarating.

“Through the development of a drug, you learn new things and it gives insight.
Instead of just publishing your results, you go on developing the results into a solution. You get to enjoy both worlds,” she said.

And in HealOr, Tennenbaum is confident that the sufferers of chronic wounds are getting closer to receiving the evasive solution to their ailment.

“I believe that we have solution that nobody else has been able to come up with.”

(See Exclusive video report on HealOr from IsraelHighTech.TV).