Early stage concussion drug developer Oxeia Biopharmaceuticals notched an outside-the-lab win last week, signing NFL star cornerback Richard Sherman to its advisory board. Sherman, as well-known for his outspokenness as his game-saving pass defense, had already tweeted his encouragement for its work earlier in the month.
Oxeia is preparing to start phase 2 clinical studies on its concussion treatment OXE-103. The molecule is ghrelin, a naturally occurring hormone peptide; Oxeia recently acquired rights to the med from Kinemed. The next phase is expected to begin in early 2018 and may take up to two years.
Sherman already partners with a helmet maker and a nutraceutical company around the cause of brain health and is additionally important for his influence among other professional football players as a member of the board of the NFL Players Association union.
“As a professional football player, I am acutely aware of the risk posed by concussions—we need to start talking about, and working actively on solutions. I look forward to assisting Oxeia as they develop an FDA-approvable treatment for concussions,” he said in a statement.
Oxeia co-founder and chief business officer Kartik Shah is pleased to have Sherman on board along with other professional athletes, such as advisor Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard defensive tackle and WWE wrestler who co-founded the non-profit Concussion Legacy Foundation to raise awareness and education of the sports concussion issue. Other former and current NFL players are also talking to Oxeia, Shah said, although they don’t want to be named for fear of damaging their careers.
“This is something that’s important enough that Richard wanted to put his name behind it publicly. If you look at him as an individual, if it’s something he cares about, he’s outspoken,” Shah said in an interview. “… Brain health is a significant personal issue for Richard given his profession and what he does every single day and the players he works beside.”
Over the past decade, concussions and football have become inextricably linked, although not without controversy. The NFL was accused of dragging its feet as multi-concussion traumatic brain injury problems began coming to light, at first through individual players such as Hall-of-Fame linebacker Junior Seau and defensive star safety Andre Waters, who both committed suicide before the age of 45. Brain tissue examinations of both subsequently revealed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. In 2015, the biographical movie “Concussion,” starring well-known actor Will Smith as a forensic pathologist, shone a bright light on the issue. The movie centers on the pathologist Bennet Omalu, who battled the NFL over his research and findings of long-term damage to professional football players' brains caused by repeated blows to the head.
“Concussion and the effects of concussion are certainly timely. There is a huge unmet medical need since there are no specific therapies. And there’s a very large patient population to make it an attractive market for a drug development candidate,” new Oxeia CEO Michael Wyand said in an interview.