Novan Therapeutics, which raised $11 million in financing in March as the company headed into clinical trials studying a potential new acne treatment, has landed a $7.8 million federal contract to further advance a treatment for thermal burns.

The contract covers two years.

Novan was awarded the contract through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), an agency within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. BARDA is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The goal is to develop a treatment that could be widely available in the event of a “mass casualty event.”

“We are honored that BARDA selected our team to develop a nitric oxide therapy for thermal burns,” said Nathan Stasko, president of Novan, in a statement.

Stasko noted that nitric oxide, a molecule produced by the human body, “has been demonstrated throughout peer-reviewed literature to speed the migration of epidermal cells, stimulate new blood vessel growth, modulate inflammation, and re-model the wound bed.”

The new contract links well with ongoing Novan work, Stasko explained. 

“The link between nitric oxide and the body’s ability to heal is well established,” he said. “The challenge is to create stable nitric oxide drugs that ‘perform on command’ and deliver a controlled, sustained dose that will supplement the body’s ability to regenerate tissue. Our platform technology has allowed us to pursue the development of drugs intended to harness the healing power of nitric oxide with results extending far beyond bioterrorism. We believe the NOAH [Nitric Oxide Advanced Healing] technology creates a gateway into regenerative medicine and could lead to therapies that can help heal both acute and chronic wounds.”

Novan already is working to develop NOAH technology to combat multi-drug resistant infections and chronic wounds. 

Novan recently released laboratory and animal testing results on Thursday that it says indicate its investigational drug SB204 could be a topical treatment to reduce sebum, the oily, waxy secretions of the skin. Sebum production can be reduced with pills but they also carry risks of side effects. The company says none of the current topical products approved by the Food and Drug Administration reduce production of sebum. Novan aims to be the first.

By pursuing acne, Novan is targeting a U.S. acne market of more than 50 million Americans. In Novan-sponsored research in the lab of Dr. Diane Thiboutot, professor of dermatology at Penn State Hershey College of Medicine, SB204 started showing results within 24 hours following a single treatment.

Novan is a spin-off from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. CEO Nathan Stasko founded Novan with UNC chemistry professor Mark Schoenfisch in 2008. Stasko was a graduate student working with Schoenfisch researching a nitric-oxide releasing nanoparticle technology. Nitric oxide has a wide range of therapeutic applications, such as wound healing and blood pressure regulation. The challenge has been nitric oxide’s short half life, which makes it difficult to use in medical applications. Novan has developed a way to control the release of the compound.

Patient enrollment in a phase II study of SB204 is expected to start in the second quarter. The goals of the study are to evaluate SB204’s safety and efficacy and also its ability to decrease sebum in the skin.

“We have invested significant resources to develop methods for the clinical evaluation of sebum in the skin,” Stasko said in a statement. “SB204 could be an attractive topical acne treatment and what we believe will be the first of many innovative products for the field of dermatology.”