Nocion grabs new CMO as it kicks off COVID-19 cough study

Nocion Therapeutics has a new chief medical officer, and not a moment too soon. Christopher Silber, M.D., arrives as the company pushes its first program into the clinic: an inhaled treatment for chronic and acute cough that could come in handy against COVID-19.

The company had been working on treatments for cough and itch when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. It realized that curbing coughs could help in multiple ways—not only would it address a symptom that can be “traumatic and debilitating,” but it can also reduce the spread of the disease between patients and hospital staff, family or housemates.

The study is testing NOC-100, an inhaled version of Nocion’s lead program, NTX-1175, in healthy people. The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency gave Nocion a speedy approval last month for the phase 1 study of the drug, hastening its transition to a clinical-stage company.

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NTX-1175 is a charged sodium channel blocker designed to work in a more general way than other cough treatments, which target specific receptors. Nocion’s approach aims at nociceptors, the neurons that send pain or itch signals when they are inflamed. Its drugs get into those nociceptors through ion channels called large-pore channels that open up when they’re inflamed, namely when something causes them to send a pain or itch signal.

It’s like using a Trojan horse to deliver drug molecules into the cells, Bruce Bean, Ph.D., one of Nocion’s co-founders, said when the company launched last year.

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Unlike drugs aimed at specific receptors, like Merck’s P2X3 antagonist, gefapixant, Nocion can target coughs broadly, no matter which channels are driving it. Nocion’s drug could be used beyond COVID-19 for people with chronic cough or postviral cough after recovering from a different respiratory illness, like the flu. And, of course, it would come in handy if another pandemic like COVID-19 hits.

Nocion’s new CMO joins from Sage Therapeutics, where he led clinical development.

"I am delighted to be joining Nocion at this stage in the company's growth, and look forward to helping Nocion realize the tremendous potential of this novel platform to create unique therapeutics to treat common conditions such as cough, atopic dermatitis and pain across an array of disorders," Silber said in the statement.