School of Medicine professor’s research leads to big money for startup

Maryam Iqbal, Staff Reporter

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March 13 was a happy day for Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine’s Professor of Neuroscience Jerry Silver. After 30 years of research on “basic mechanisms that can robustly enhance nerve regeneration in animal models of spinal cord injury all the way to human patients,” Silver was able to take his research to the market. Last year, CWRU partnered with NervGen to commercialize his patented technology and potentially bring new therapies for spinal cord injuries and other conditions where scar tissue blocks regeneration. On March 13, Vancouver-based NervGen Pharma was able to raise 10 million Canadian dollars in its first round of public offering.

In an interview, Silver spoke about the origin of NervGen, explaining that one of its founders had a relative who suffered from a spinal cord injury, which prompted him to do research in the field. This led him to Silver’s technology. In a matter of two years they brought on more people including Ernest Wong, the current CEO. Last summer, the company signed a licensing agreement with CWRU to research and develop Silver’s technology. The key focus at the moment is to work on drug NVG-291 which is aimed at treating spinal cord injuries.

Silver also spoke about collaborating in his research with groups in Germany that used a similar drug to achieve the same preliminary results; that is, drastic recovery after a spinal cord injury. The peptide which was discovered as the primary treatment was patented in April 2018 when it became the basis of NervGen’s pharmaceutical testing.

One of Silver’s key discoveries was the identification of a mechanism isolated to a receptor known as a protein PTPSigma, which was part of the barrier molecules inhibiting nerve regeneration, and is what the team hopes will help their research into solutions for spinal cord injuries and other nerve damage, such as peripheral nerve injuries. According to Silver, groups in Hong Kong and elsewhere are looking into applying this technology toward medication for epilepsy, heart attacks and other diseases.

When discussing the next milestone for the company, Silver talked about how NervGen is now focusing on pre-clinical non-human studies for the NVG-291 drug to obtain Investigational New Drug approval from the Food and Drug Administration. As for his own work, Silver emphasized the work of his former graduate students, like Brad Lang, on the project.

Silver has expressed his plans to collaborate with more graduate students and other institutions like the Cleveland Clinic in the future as he continues his research.