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Entrepreneur with GSK roots targets lung transplant survival rates with UNC technology

In a tiny lab in Chapel Hill, a 3-year-old startup with UNC-Chapel Hill technology is trying to help lung transplant patients defy the odds.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C., Sep 1, 2016, 5:35pm EDT

In a tiny lab in Chapel Hill, a 3-year-old startup with UNC-Chapel Hill technology is trying to help lung transplant patients defy the odds.


Each year, about 2,000 people receive lung transplants. And the five-year survival rate for those patients is just over half, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Renovion CEO Dan Copeland says a product being developed in Chapel Hill could fight that statistic.


“We want to be the first drug to be FDA approved for lung transplant patients,” he says.

Copeland is a former GlaxoSmithKline employee, where he was part of the respiratory group working on asthma drug Advair. At GSK, he fostered an interest in respiratory therapy. Through special “compassionate-use” allowance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (and physician requests), three patients are using Renovion’s experimental, UNC-licensed treatment, Arina-1 – including a lung transplant patient who has been on the therapy since 2006, he says. He says the patient, who is on a twice-daily dose, has had no signs of infection and no rejection.


“We’ve got data that shows we’re anti-infective and anti-inflammatory. And we do that without bacterial resistance. We’re not an antibiotic, and that’s huge.”


This week, the firm closed on a round of funding of more than $467,000 from six investors, according to a securities filing. The funds give enough of a runway to get the company through eight months of work, or to its next round of funding, he says.


If all goes well, he’s hoping to complete the preclinical program in 2017 and finish a Phase 2 trial in 2018. Ultimately, he says his goal is to expand from lung transplant patients to chronic inflammatory airway diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and COPD.


While much of Copeland’s life has been focused on respiratory therapies, he says he has no personal connection to the disease that’s driving him.


“I’ve just always been interested, just from my early days at GSK,” he says. “For lung transplants, patients where there’s not a therapy, if we can provide something that’s meaningful, that’s really what it’s about.”


Article by: Lauren Ohnesorge

Publication: Triangle Business Journal

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