GREENSBORO — A brighter future for cats suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD) could be on the horizon.

Greensboro-based Piedmont Animal Health, which develops, licenses and markets animal-health therapeutics, has teamed up with Wake Forest University’s Institute of Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) to develop a novel therapy targeting the progressive and debilitating condition.

Often seen in older cats, there are currently no available treatments for CKD.

“With WFIRM in our backyard, and a combined interest in raising the standard of care, it was natural for the two of us to work together,” said Doug Hepler, Ph.D., Piedmont’s chief scientific officer.

Highlighted in the March 2021 issue of Frontiers in Veterinary Science, the treatment involves an intrarenal injection of a recombinant human chemokine, CXCL-12. It was investigated in two preclinical studies and one clinical study.

“Results of the two preclinical studies showed that CXCL-12 restored normal kidney structure to cats with clinically induced fibrosis, and provided evidence exhibiting how the treatment acts to address the changes in the kidney associated with CKD damage,” the company said in a news release.

“A subsequent clinical pilot study demonstrated the feasibility of administering CXCL-12 with no obvious side effects over the nine-month study period.”

Hepler said these findings suggest the collaboration could make a “big difference” in the lives of cat owners and their beloved pets.

“Anyone who has had a cat with chronic kidney disease knows how heartbreaking it is to watch their decline and be able to do very little about it,” he said. “Our goal is to change that story to a much more positive one.”

Humans may also benefit someday, say experts.

“Results of these studies together show that intrarenal injection of CXCL-12 may be a potential new therapy to treat early kidney disease in cats with a capability for widespread use,” said Koudy Williams, who leads the research team at WFIRM that includes Julie Bennington, a research fellow and Ph.D. candidate. “This is a good example of how a disease that is common to both animals and humans can be studied and potentially applied to the disease in humans.”

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Working regionally

Founded in 2016, Piedmont has project collaborations with academic and company partners throughout the state.

In 2003, the North Carolina Biotechnology Center provided a critical $150,000 loan during its startup phase. The company went on to leverage that into $9.5 million in venture funding. It is now privately held and venture-capital-backed by Talu Ventures, of Brisbane, Australia. NCBiotech published an extensive profile of Piedmont in 2017.

“This collaboration is a powerful example” of how the Piedmont Triad region continues to transform itself as a thriving life sciences hub in key areas of strength – animal and human health,” said Nancy Johnston, executive director of NCBiotech’s Piedmont Triad Office.

“It is evidence of the successful regional interaction among thought leaders in academia and industry, with the talent and ability to translate discovery to clinical therapies,” she said.

Michael Kelly, chief financial officer of Piedmont Animal Health and chair of the NCBiotech Piedmont Triad Advisory Committee, credits his company’s engagement with the regional committee as a catalyst for the successful collaboration.

“This collaboration is a direct result of the valuable networking that takes place in the NCBiotech regional committee meetings,” Kelly said.


© North Carolina Biotechnology Center


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