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March 22, 2006

Hibernation company is wide awake

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano at 2:09 PM

At Invest Northwest, the biotech conference ending today in Seattle, company presentations -- especially those after lunch -- can lower the oxygen in a room and slow the audience's metabolism.

Those are some of the effects Seattle startup Ikaria seeks to provoke in trauma patients, whose chance of survival might increase if they needed less oxygen and their metabolism could be slowed. The company created a stir at Invest Northwest on Tuesday afternoon when it described the quick progress it has made in the last year.

Ikaria CEO Dr. Flemming Ornskov said company scientists have repeated the work of Dr. Mark Roth, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist whose technique for inducing temporary hibernation in rodents is the basis of Ikaria's technology. Ikaria has also shown that rodents treated with hydrogen sulfide can survive in an environment that's only 4 percent oxygen, "which would be lethal to any human," Ornskov said. Tests in larger animals have shown similar benefits, he said.

Ikaria leased 6,700 square feet of the 1616 Eastlake Ave. East building in Seattle and is building a custom laboratory on the third floor. It has been using space inside the Accelerator biotech incubator in the same building.

"I think it's a pretty big accomplishment that within eight months since we've started there, we are out of there," Ornskov said in an interview today as he was jetting off to Europe to meet with potential investors. "We've basically opened up a totally new research venue, which is hybernation pharmacology. People are really excited about it."

The company is continuing animal studies this year before seeking permission from the Food and Drug Administration to test the drug in humans. Ornskov expects Ikaria to grow to 20 employees by the end of 2006.

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