NIH sickle cell partner AesRx moves up the food chain in Baxter buyout

Having played a pioneering role collaborating with the NIH on a new drug for sickle cell disease, Newton, MA-based AesRx has moved up the food chain after completing a buyout deal with Baxter International ($BAX).

The star of the pipeline at AesRx is Aes-103, an oral small molecule therapy that is designed to blunt the impact of the disease, hopefully reducing symptoms like vaso-occlusive crisis, pain, severe anemia and fatigue. The little biotech was an early winner with the NIH's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences through its program for Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases, with NIH researchers undertaking much of the development work in Bethesda, MD.

Back in 2010 AesRx was used as an example of the kind of clinical development collaboration that the NIH under Francis Collins wanted to replicate in the hunt for new therapies that could provide some cutting-edge advances for patients. And now it's being used as an example of how the NIH can help advance new drugs to the point bigger players can take over and fund late-stage development.

AesRx also has a Phase II program underway for a gel formulation of Lotrimin (clotrimazole). The anti-inflammatory Aes-210 is being studied for pouchitis, a common complication of ileal pouch surgery. The NIH's assistance on the sickle cell program goes all the way back to preclinical work. And it hopes to use the AesRx example as a model for more such tie-ups with biotechs.

Baxter did not specify how much it paid for the company, either in the upfront or the milestones for successful completion of the work.

NCATS Director Christopher Austin

''Sickle cell disease was the first disease to ever have its molecular cause discovered, and now a potential treatment based on that discovery has at last been developed,'' said NCATS Director Dr. Christopher Austin in a statement. ''This success validates the NCATS model, which is based on a novel collaborative approach that de-risks intervention development programs to enable private-sector investment. We look forward to applying this model to the thousands of rare diseases that are currently untreatable, so that we realize the NCATS mission of getting more treatments to more patients more quickly.''

- here's the release