September 1, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

Peter Assaf, Renopharm founder and Chief Scientific Officer: We’re using nitric oxide in a natural way for drug delivery.It’s a common problem reported in the medical world: a patient finds a potentially life-saving medication, but after some time doctors need to up the dose in order for it to work effectively. The phenomenon is known as drug tolerance.

An Israeli start-up company Renopharm believes it has found a way to prevent drug tolerance when treating a whole host of conditions such as hypertension, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and male sexual dysfunction. Still in its R&D stage, the company’s technology could also be used in coated medical devices.

Renopharm’s technology platform is based on the chemical action of nitric oxide (NO). As a gas, NO is highly reactive. We find it in car exhaust fumes, and it plays an important role in the formation of smog. But it has useful physiological functions also.

A signaling molecule

Not long ago, NO was discovered to play an important role as a signaling molecule in our bodies to regulate the functioning of cells. It works naturally to relax smooth muscles and blood vessels in the heart and can reduce the pain of angina, for example.

Most recently – with research on its biochemical pathways published – scientists have understood that NO-based therapies (called NO donor drugs) could have a profound effect in treating cardiovascular disease, renal functioning, and in diseases and conditions of the circulatory, immune, and nervous systems.

“NO was defined several years ago as molecule of the year,” notes Prof. Eliezer Flescher of Tel Aviv University.

According to Renopharm, its novel patent-pending compound could become a new class of drugs where drug tolerance is a problem. Currently, the company is synthesizing novel NO donor compounds targeted for treating a variety of diseases, including hypertension (high blood pressure), epilepsy, and inflammatory bowel disease.

Medications with a new approach

The mode of action is a pill that contains vitamin D1 and other chemical compounds which activate an enzyme in the body to release NO. Nitric oxide is already found in our bodies: “We are intending to make new medications with a new approach. Renopharm is using NO in a natural way,” says Peter Assaf, the founder and chief scientific officer of the company.

Assaf is an Israeli-Arab chemist who studied at Marburg University in Germany and later at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He expects it will take about five years until a final product is approved and ready for the US market, he tells ISRAEL21c.

As for its business plan, Renopharm plans to remain an R&D company and to partner with major innovative drug developers instead of developing their own drugs. A move to a US office in Michigan this year might help Renopharm accelerate such partnerships.

On its brochure, the company estimates that NO-donor drugs fall within a massive market, expected to surge to $96 billion in 2010. Their preliminary in vitro and in vivo test results demonstrate their compounds to be more effective than drugs based on nitroglycerin, says the company.

Renopharm was founded in 2003 in Nazareth. Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist supports the company of four people.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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