CardioPoietis strives to stop damage to heart muscles before it’s too late

By Taylor Kirby


About 1.4 million people in the in the United States suffer a heart attack each year. An additional 795,000 have a stroke. During a heart attack, a blood clot blocks blood from getting to a portion of the heart muscle. This depravation causes long-term damage. The same thing happens in a stroke except a portion of the brain is deprived of blood.

Currently, the only Food and Drug Administration approved treatment for a heart attack is to remove the blockage and renew blood flow. Right now there are not any drugs that prevent the irreparable damage caused while the tissue is not receiving blood.

CardioPoietis LLC is a company commercializing a drug expected to reduce the damage to the heart during a heart attack by 30 to 35 percent compared to the current standard treatment. There is also promising evidence that it may provide similar protective effects for the brain during a stroke. Currently, two U.S.-issued patents for the idea and usage of this drug are owned by the company.

John Baker, founder of CardioPoietis and inventor of the drug, is an expert in cardiac research. Baker has a doctorate in cardiac biochemistry and is passionate about translating basic research findings in to clinical applications. Born, raised and educated in England, Baker moved to Wisconsin in 1984 to complete a post-doctoral residency in cardiothoracic surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He has been in Wisconsin ever since.

After years of research trying to reduce heart damage during a heart attack, Baker noticed the presence of a receptor molecule on the surface of heart cells. This receptor was for the protein thrombopoietin. The receptor is known to exist on platelets in the blood but it is unclear why it is present on heart cells. Scientific curiosity led Baker to explore this finding. He injected rats with thrombopoietin and then gave them a heart attack. In these initial animal studies, Baker found that injection of thrombopoietin reduced the damage to the heart.

The next step Baker took was introducing the drug to isolated human heart cells. He found that when he simulated heart attack circumstances in these isolated heart cells they also exhibited the protective effects of the drug therapy. This study showed the potential applications in human hearts.

CardioPoietis is now looking for funding to move the drug to a phase one clinical trial in humans to test the safety of the drug in healthy participants. Thrombopoietin is currently used for a different, relatively rare, condition at dose 20 times more than suggested by Baker and CardioPoietis. Baker is extremely confident that the drug will pass through phase one trials.

“I will volunteer to be the first patient to receive the drug,” confided Baker, who presented Nov. 12 to investors and others at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.

If the drug is proven safe, it will move on to phase two trials. Phase two trials are to test if the drug does what it is intended to do. In this case thrombopoietin will be administered, by an injection, in ambulances to patients presenting with a heart attack. This drug is suggested as an addition to the current medical treatments for heart attack. It is purely to reduce damage to the heart before doctors can remove the blockage. Phase two trials will quantify the improvement, if any, upon the standard of care seen with injection of thrombopoietin.

If the drug moves through phase two trials successfully CardioPoietis plans to sell the intellectual property associated with the drug to a major pharmaceutical company for further development, manufacturing and distribution. Baker expects CardioPoietis to have transferred the patents to a pharmaceutical company before 2020. Investors can expect a return on their investment in that time frame.

The research on thrombopoietin use in stroke patients is a couple years behind the research for its use in heart attacks. However, it is expected to follow a very similar trajectory. Considering heart attack and stoke patients, the number of people that could benefit from this drug is more than 2 million per year. Baker projects multibillion-dollar revenues once the drug is FDA approved and on the market.

— Kirby is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.