Could tick saliva help save lives?

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The biotech Bioxodes is using a molecule derived from tick saliva to stop blood clots. The Walloon company is focused on preventing thrombosis during procedures involving medical devices. The current gold-standard anticoagulant can cause unwanted bleeding and side effects; could a molecule derived from ticks really be safer?

By Amy LeBlanc

Usually ticks are seen as a problem, not a solution. The bloodsucking little critters cause no end of troubles by transmitting infections like Lyme disease and just being all-round unpleasant parasites. However, the very thing that makes them parasitic, their reliance on blood as sustenance, may present a solution to the longstanding medical problem of preventing blood clots. In order to keep their host’s blood flowing, their saliva has evolved interesting anticoagulant properties.

A molecule that ticks all the boxes

About a decade ago, Prof. Edmond Godfroid was working at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), trying to isolate the pharmacologically active proteins in tick saliva. Together with his team, he was eventually able to isolate the anticoagulant molecule Ir-CPI from a species of tick known as Ixodes ricinus. Seeing the huge medical potential of such a molecule, Godfroid co-founded Bioxodes where he now serves as CSO.

For more on ticks, check out this previous BioVox article on Lyme disease!

Bioxodes’ lead product, Ir-CPI, is currently being explored as an alternative treatment to prevent blood clotting during medical device procedures. There are a range of techniques, such as catheter insertion, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), hemodialysis, and cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB), where an anticoagulant has to be used to prevent lethal blood clots.

The gold standard anticoagulant used for these procedures has long been heparin (also known as unfractionated heparin (UFH)). However, this treatment comes with risks and drawbacks. It increases the risk of hemorrhages in many patients and can be associated with allergy, heparin resistance and a life-threatening reduction of platelets. This is why Bioxodes are studying Ir-CPI to see if it can provide a safer alternative to heparin.

Clinical tick trials

Bioxodes have just published major preclinical results on the antithrombotic activity and safety of Ir-CPI in the renowned Journal of the American College of Cardiology,. What they found is that Ir-CPI was as efficient as heparin in preventing clot formation. More importantly, unlike heparin, Ir-CPI did not promote bleeding. Prof. Cédric Hermans, Head of Haemostasis and Thrombosis at St-Luc University Hospital, Brussels, commented:

This publication clearly validates the scientific results of Bioxodes, emphasizing their relevancy and scientific interest. It represents a tremendous support for the ongoing clinical studies.

The preclinical results published in this study clearly indicate that Ir-CPI might be an important therapeutic agent, capable of protecting patients from thrombosis in clinical situations where there is a high risk of blood-clotting. Following the successful preclinical program, Bioxodes recently completed a EUR 7.65 million capital increase, carried out among the current shareholders as well as new investors. A repayable advance of EUR 2.65 million was granted by the Walloon Region, which has been actively supportive since the creation of the company.

With this capital increase, Bioxodes aims to demonstrate the safety of Ir-CPI in humans and obtain first proofs of efficacy in patients. In October, Bioxodes announced that it had obtained authorization to launch a phase I trial for Ir-CPI in healthy male volunteers. The clinical trial is now underway in Belgium. With the global heparin market valued at around USD 10 billion, it will be interesting to see if Ir-CPI is a viable alternative to the current gold standard.