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New Orleans company using new brain models to test neurological drugs

Dr. Lowry Curley and Ben Cappiello met studying bioengineering at Tulane. Now their company AxoSim is advancing drug testing for brain and nerve disorders.

NEW ORLEANS — When drug companies test new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson's, 94 percent of them fail.  

Just one failed drug can cost $2.6 billion over a decade. 

But that may change soon because of two local entrepreneurs. 

And that hope caught the attention of Saints owner Gayle Benson. 

A diagnosis of a brain illness or nerve disorder is difficult. ALS, MS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's have limited treatment options. But finding successful future medicines could soon take a big leap, and the springboard is in New Orleans. 

“So if we can really go from the laboratory predicting if a drug's going to work or not, shave years off of the time to go into patients, I mean that's huge. Pharmaceutical companies obviously want that, but patients deserve that. They need that,” said AxoSim CEO, Dr. Lowry Curley.

Dr. Lowry Curley and Ben Cappiello met studying bioengineering at Tulane. Now their company AxoSim can test new pharmaceuticals for brain and nerve disorders in the lab on more realistic models. They say it’s better than cells in a petri dish and better than on animal models. 

“Alzheimer's specifically is a drug with a 99.6 percent failure rate. In fact, 1,200 clinical trials over the past 30 plus years, and only five approved drugs, and we all know that none of those is a cure,” said  AxoSim Chief Business Officer, Ben Cappiello.

In collaboration with Johns Hopkins, they use revolutionary technology called BrainSim and NerveSim. “Mini brains” created from skin stem cells then converted to neurons or nerve cells, grow into a tiny sphere the size of the tip of a pen. And it acts more like the human brain. 

“The BrainSim really lets us model different diseases of the brain, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s being two of them, and then our NerveSim can recreate anything  inside the spinal cord or outside, and one of the big ones there is ALS,” said Dr. Lowry.

And now Benson Capital Partners, started by Saints owner Gayle Benson, is investing millions into AxoSim with a goal of finding cures, but also in funding entrepreneurs and growing industry in New Orleans and the gulf south. 

“The company will create dozens, if not hundreds, of jobs that are all well-paying and sort of upwardly mobile, and can really help propel the economic flywheel for our region,” said Mike Katz, Managing Director of Benson Capital Partners. 

“We're based here in New Orleans,” said Cappiello, who added, “We are a global company with a real global impact.”

It’s an impact that gives patients life-changing hope and breathes life into the economy. 

AxoSim is already working with nine of the top 25 pharmaceutical companies in the world.

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