NC’s EncepHeal Lands NIH Grant to Treat Cocaine Addiction

EncepHeal logo

It can easily get lost in the flurry and fear of a pandemic.

But pharmaceutical researchers around the world are still busy looking for the “A-ha” that can help people who suffer and die from other illnesses, even during this rush to stop COVID-19. 

And the fact is that this new coronavirus has created some threats beyond its own deadly infection reach.

Cocaine addiction, for example. It’s a well-known major illness. It seems to be attached to the upward trend of COVID-19. But who’s paying attention? 

A young Winston-Salem company, EncepHeal Therapeutics, for one. And the federal government, for another.

EncepHeal, bootstrapped with $150,000 in early funding support from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, has now landed a federal grant to support development of its novel medications for cocaine addiction.

EncepHeal has landed a Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network (BPN) grant from the National Institutes of Health with a potential value of $3.3 million over four years. In addition to direct support, the NIH BPN may underwrite the cost of key research studies, manufacturing, and consulting services through BPN-sponsored-contracts. 

EncepHeal is developing drugs to treat cocaine use disorder, a serious and growing health concern with no FDA-approved therapies.

Aaron Lazarus
Aaron Lazarus -- EncepHeal Therapeutics photo

EncepHeal’s therapies are designed to act at dopamine transporters. These are the molecules in the brain that produce the effects of cocaine.

The company’s bet is that its approach can reduce cocaine craving, while not producing the addictive effects often seen in other substance abuse therapeutics.

BPN, part of the NIH Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, is a collaboration of NIH institutes and centers that support research on the nervous system to develop new neurotherapeutic medications. 

For this project, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the funding institute and key collaborator. The BPN provides non-dilutive support for small-molecule drug discovery and development, all the way through early clinical testing. 

“We are thankful to have the support of the Blueprint Program, as well as the continued support of NIDA,” said Aaron Lazarus, EncepHeal cofounder and CEO. “This award will go a long way to help EncepHeal achieve its goal of advancing therapeutic measures to treat cocaine addiction.” 

In addition to the boost from NCBiotech and the BPN and NIDA funding, EncepHeal is also supported by an investment from the California-based seed money startup accelerator YCombinator.

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