Ventoux Biosciences

PharmaShots: Interview with Kurt Harrington

Author: Saurabh Chaubey

Shots: 

  • Dupuytren’s disease is a chronic progressive & debilitating fibrosis that impacts hands. There’s an unmet need to treat Dupuytren’s disease, especially when looking for a pharmacological substitute for surgical interventions 
  • Today, at PharmaShots, we had the pleasure to speak with Kurt Harrington, CEO and Founder of Ventoux Biosciences 
  • Kurt shares insights from the preclinical studies of VEN-201 for the treatment of Palmar Fibromatosis (Dupuytren’s Disease) and Plantar Fibromatosis (Ledderhose Disease) 

Saurabh: Could you share some insights from the preclinical studies for our audience?  

Kurt: Yes, of course. Dupuytren’s disease is a complex disease with no known cure, primarily treated through surgical means. There’s a pressing need for innovative treatments to slow its progression rather than solely relying on surgical interventions. Our approach involves repurposing existing products to expedite the development of new treatments. For our preclinical study, we utilized an established dermal fibrosis mouse model commonly used for scleroderma research. In this study, mice were administered daily doses of bleomycin to induce fibrosis. Subsequently, one group received daily doses of VEN-201, while another received VEN-202. VEN-201 exhibited promising anti-fibrotic effects alongside a positive safety profile. The primary objective was to assess these compounds’ anti-fibrotic effects, and VEN-201 demonstrated efficacy in this regard. Currently, our focus is on advancing VEN-201 towards first-in-human studies, with forthcoming steps including FDA interactions, formulation optimization, patient delivery methods, and bolstering our patent portfolio.

Saurabh: Your journey into the biopharma industry is quite recent. Our audience would love to know more about your company and the idea behind Ventoux Biosciences.  

Kurt: I have spent my entire career working in the Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals. My background is in commercial and strategy and in recent years, I spent significant time focused on evaluating markets, evaluating potential new indications for existing / in-market products, evaluating indication targets for emerging technologies, as well as helping companies raise awareness for under-served and / or lesser know diseases. As a Dupuytren’s and Ledderhose patient – I of course have always closely monitored current and emerging treatment options. I am thankful for the procedures I have undergone in effort to maintain hand function however; we greatly need more options for this debilitating disease. As many are familiar, most diseases have multiple treatment classes of medication and multiple medications within each class. Dupuytren’s disease lacks pharmacologic treatment options for patients with early or moderate stage disease. Patients simply need to wait and hope their hands do not progress and when they do, they most often times have a surgery. The unmet medical need for a safe and effective pharmacologic treatment that can be used early on in the course of the disease to slow it down or ideally halt progression is significant and would provide great benefit to patients. Given my Dad has this disease and just completed his 8th surgery. I have had three surgeries and three full courses of targeted radiation and I felt my purpose was to leverage my experience and industry contacts to develop additional options for all Dupuytren’s patients – including my Dad, my son’s, and future generations – should they develop this disease. 

Saurabh: Tell us more about Dupuytren’s disease. Since you have Dupuytren’s disease, would you mind talking about the challenges you faced?  

Kurt: Dupuytren’s disease is a common, chronic, progressive, and debilitating fibrosis that impacts the hands. As the disease progresses, patients fingers contract / curl inwards towards the palm and are locked in place. Patients are unable to open their hands, extend their fingers, and unable to spread their fingers. Pain is commonly cited by patients yet under-represented in the literature and many patients also experience itching in the fibrotic areas. The disease is surprisingly easy to diagnose as early stages are often represented by a fibrotic nodule(s) in the palm of the hand and / or a tight “V” shaped pit that often forms below the 4th / ring finger. As the disease progresses, these areas build up more collagen and the cords that run up and down the fingers begin to contract. At present, options are focused on removing or breaking down the collagen as an acute remedy for later stage disease. Our mission is to slow or stop the disease in early stages to help patients retain hand function and potentially delay or avoid more severe interventions. 

Personally the disease impacts me in many ways. Similar to patients with RA – I have pain and sensitivity in the areas of my hands where fibrosis is present. I have undergone three different surgeries to straighten or try to straighten my fingers and I have had three courses (30 individual zaps) of radiation to try and slow nodule growth and / or preserve the benefits of a surgery. Even with my proactive approach to treatment, I have given up playing golf, classical guitar, and I regularly need to have others (my boys) help open jars – in part due to pain / sensitivity and in part due to some loss of strength. Our immune system often plays a role in fibrotic diseases and that is true in Dupuytren’s as well as patients often notice initial signs of disease following an injury or surgery in the arm, wrist, or hand.  

Even something as simple as catching a football can lead to disease activation where nodules may begin to appear in those areas of the hand. For these reasons, I continue to live my life but I am quite cautious with my hands and have 30+ pairs of gloves. I have continued to due triathlons, coach football, and play guitar as I refuse for the disease to win however; at the same time – protecting the hands and limiting hits, bumps, vibrations, etc.. is advised.  

Saurabh: There is an unmet need when it comes to seeking treatment for Dupuytren’s disease. Currently, what are the available options for the treatment or management of Dupuytren’s disease?  

Kurt: Currently, treatment options for Dupuytren’s disease are limited, with surgical interventions serving as the primary recourse. Procedures such as Needle Aponeurotomy and collagenase injections offer less invasive alternatives, with varying degrees of effectiveness and higher recurrence of disease. More invasive procedures like fasciotomy or fasciectomy involve surgically removing fibrotic tissue. Additionally, low-dose radiation therapy has emerged as a means to slow disease progression, particularly in early stages. Despite these options, there remains a significant unmet need for pharmacological treatments capable of halting or slowing the disease’s progression. 

Saurabh: Discuss the challenges you faced in the development phase, and when are you going for the P-1 study.  

Kurt: Navigating the complexities of Dupuytren’s disease posed significant challenges during the development phase. Despite this, our dedicated team of fibrosis and Dupuytren’s researchers meticulously evaluated various models and methodologies before commencing the study. Currently, our focus is on expeditiously progressing towards the Phase 1 study. Prior milestones include preparing for and conducting a Pre-IND meeting, as well as refining formulation and delivery methods for patient use. 

Saurabh: Are you looking for any collaborators to further develop VEN-201?  

Kurt: Our primary focus at Ventoux Biosciences is the development of VEN-201 for Dupuytren’s disease. However, given its potential applicability in other fibrotic or immuno-fibrotic conditions, we remain open to collaborations for additional indications as we advance its development.

Saurabh: Does your company have any other drugs in its pipeline, and do you plan to explore other areas? 

Kurt: In our recent preclinical study, we evaluated a second compound, VEN-202. However, it did not demonstrate the desired anti-fibrotic effects, and thus, we do not plan to advance its development. We believe VEN-201 holds promise not only for Dupuytren’s disease but potentially for other fibrotic conditions. As we progress, we will carefully assess lifecycle options while maintaining our focus on Dupuytren’s disease. 

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Latha Satish, M.Sc., M.Phil, Ph.D.

Dr. Satish is a trained biotechnologist with several years of experience in cell and molecular biology. Dr. Satish’s interest has been in skin research with a special focus on skin inflammation, infection, and fibrosis. The other arm of Dr. Satish’s research has been to study the molecular determinants of palmar fascial disease, Dupuytren’s contracture.

Her long-term interest has been to develop therapeutic agents to help alleviate the pain and distress of patients with Dupuytren’s. Her studies on Dupuytren’s disease were funded by a private donor, which moved the research forward to study this disease in an animal model, which was not feasible earlier. Dr. Satish’s research on Dupuytren has identified small molecules that can be used as a target to intervene with the progression and development of the disease.

Dr. Satish received her Ph.D. from a prestigious institute in India and did her post-doctoral training at the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, Dr. Satish serves as a faculty at the Division of Asthma Research, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; named as the top hospital in the US. At Cincinnati Children’s, Dr. Satish researches Atopic Dermatitis, a chronic inflammatory skin disease affecting children and adults. Dr. Satish has published over 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals, review articles and book chapters.

Dr. Keith Denkler

Dr. Denkler is an accomplished, board certified plastic surgeon with expertise in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery. Dr. Denkler is a clinical professor of plastic surgery at UCSF and has a private practice in Marin County.

He is internationally renowned for his use of multiple approaches in treating the debilitating and disabling effects of palmar fibromatosis (Dupuytren disease). Dr. Denkler is an expert in needle aponeurotomy (NA), a minimally invasive procedure that uses subcutaneous needles to release the contracture as well as use of subcutaneous injection of collagenase. He has treated over 10,000 Dupuytren’s fingers, authored >35 publications and book chapters, presented internationally and domestically and is often cited for expert opinion in national and international news discussing Dupuytren’s. HIs pioneering investigational work documenting the safety of epinephrine with local anesthesia contributed to the origination of “wide-awake hand surgery”.

Dr. Denkler trained at prestigious medical institutions in the United States and Europe. He attended Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, followed by residency training in plastic and reconstructive surgery with the Cronin, Bauer, and Biggs group, also in Houston. Additionally, Dr. Denkler completed a hand surgery fellowship with Dr. Eugene Kilgore in San Francisco and one year of fellowship training in craniofacial surgery with Dr. Paul Tessier in Paris, France.

Dr. daiva bajorunas

Daiva Bajorunas MD is an endocrinologist with more than 25 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry.  She has a strong interest in advancing therapeutic options for conditions of significant unmet medical need. 

For the past decade, Daiva has been engaged as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry, currently as Founder and Principal, DBMD Consulting, and previously as Chief Medical Officer / Chief Scientific Officer for Vault Bioventures. She has provided her expertise to enhance large, mid-size and small pharmaceutical company product development, clinical/regulatory, and life cycle strategies for both drugs and devices, including oral, transdermal, injectable and inhalative delivery systems, working across multiple therapeutic areas and geographies. She has considerable experience chairing Data Safety Monitoring Boards.   

In the past she held various R&D positions of increasing responsibility at Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, BMS, Aventis (acquired by Sanofi), and Kos Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Abbott). Before she joined industry, she held academic appointments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University Medical College (CUMC), and was Director of Clinical Care, Endocrinology Service, Memorial Hospital (MH), New York, NY. Daiva received her MD degree at the University of Michigan Medical School, did her residency training at St. Vincent’s Hospital & Medical Center in NY, her metabolism fellowship at Stanford University Medical Center, CA and her endocrinology fellowship at MH/CUMC, NY.