Since mid-March, Westport has been known as the town where one party launched a “super-spread” of the coronavirus.
But if a small company on the Saugatuck River has its way, we may soon be known as the home of one of the first anti-viral drugs to prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
The company is BioSig Technologies. It was founded as a medical technology company in 2009 in Los Angeles, primarily to treat cardiac arrhythmia.
Founder Ken Londoner — who has worked in the life sciences investment field since 1991 — moved to Westport in 1994. A few years ago he grew tired of the weekly commute to California.
Many customers for BioSig’s new bioelectronic medicine product were on the East Coast. Londoner knew this area was filled with great potential employees. Office space here was cheaper than in L.A.
In 2018 he moved his headquarters into new space on Wilton Road. (There are satellite offices in Los Angeles and Rochester, Minnesota, site of the Mayo Clinic.)
BioSig never planned to be a biotech company. But Dr. Jerry Zeldis — one of the NASDAQ publicly traded firm’s board members — was working on a long term project called Vicromax. The oral drug — a broad spectrum anti-viral — was focused on hepatitis C.
Yet by using COVID-19 samples from Wuhan and Seattle, Zeldis found it was 96.8% effective in reducing the viral effect in cell cultures. Vicromax has the potential to substantially reduce viral replication of COVID-19 — outside of the lab, in humans.
BioSig quickly set up a subsidiary — ViralClear Pharma — to work on the project, and help Zeldis bring the drug to market.
“Work” is the right word: They’re at it 18 to 21 hours a day, 7 days a week.
They hope the FDA will approve human testing before the end of May. If they show the same results with humans as with cells in the lab, BioSig could move forward quickly.
Londoner stresses that BioSig is working on oral treatments — not vaccines.
“Those take much longer to get to the public,” he says. The “18 month” time frame that has been discussed in the media is unrealistic, he believes. He thinks a vaccine available to the general public is 2 to 3 years away.
Anti-viral medications like Vicromax, however, have an enormous impact. Used as part of a multi-drug cocktail, they have made hepatitis C completely curable, HIV a manageable chronic disease rather than a death sentence, and been very effective against hepatitis B and Ebola.
Drug development is a low-key, no-glamour business. It’s off most people’s radars — until an event like a pandemic focuses their attention on it.
Most Westporters have never heard of BioSig. That’s fine with Londoner.
“We’re not hypesters,” he says. “We’re too busy for that.”
So while most of the world shelters in place, the staff at BioSig is racing forward on a solution to get us all back on track.
Right here in the town that was an early epicenter of the disease.