Halia Therapeutics opens Lehi lab, hopes to test new dementia drug within a year
Halia Therapeutics believes it is on the forefront of research to target chronic inflammation to treat neurodegeneration and inflammatory diseases.
Chronic inflammation causes more health issues than the average person may realize. It causes arthritis, anemia, Alzheimer’s, bone marrow disorders and many other diseases.
Started in 2017, Halia Therapeutics has now expanded to a new facility in Lehi at The Summit, 3900 Traverse Mountain Blvd., Suite 100. In the new facility are state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment to further the company’s research. The founders are David Bearss, president and chief executive officer; Jared Bearss, chief operating officer; and Keoni Kauwe, president of BYU-Hawaii.
The grand opening of the Lehi facility was held on Aug. 22 with a current total of 18 employees, many of whom are graduates from Brigham Young University where they trained in the lab under Kauwe.
The name Halia is a Hawaiian word meaning “fond memories,” and the Hawaii state flower, a hibiscus, is the company’s logo. The hibiscus flower structure is similar to that of the NLRP3 inflammasome, which is the key inflammatory structure Halia is targeting through its research on inflammation drugs.
Kauwe explained why they chose the name Halia. “Our goal is to preserve the healthy lifespan of our loved ones,” he said. “The whole purpose of the company is to develop therapeutics that will create and preserve these fond memories that we have with each other.”
While the drug research being done at Halia Therapeutics focuses on a variety of illnesses and diseases that are caused by chronic inflammation, one of the main focuses is Alzheimer’s. Kauwe spent his entire professional career studying Alzheimer’s. He has had several family members with Alzheimer’s, he said, but that is not what mainly inspired him to pursue his research.
Kauwe met a woman who is one of the top Alzheimer’s researchers in the world. “She was smart and kind and she’s a good mentor, she was honest and had integrity,” he said. So, he decided he wanted to be trained by her and poured all of his efforts into that field of study. As he did so, he said, “I just really got a really deep understanding of the damage that Alzheimer’s disease causes to individuals who are suffering from it and their loved ones (and) their caregivers, and I just wanted to be part of the solution for that.”
While his research continues today, he spends much of his time as the president of BYU-Hawaii since his inauguration in 2021. During his research, he published findings he calls exciting, but he did not have the capacity to test out his findings and make them a reality, so he contacted his close friend David Bearss. To Kauwe’s surprise, Bearss suggested they start a company, and Halia Therapeutics was born.
Clinical studies of drugs have three phases. Phase one is testing the safety of the drug and showing the Food and Drug Administration it can be delivered in a safe way. Phase two is administering the drug to voluntary people with that disease to see if it is effective. Phase three is showing that the drug has advantages over current therapies.
Halia Therapeutics is beginning three phase-two studies in the next few months for drugs it has developed. The most general drug being tested is an oral pill that targets chronic inflammation almost everywhere in the body except in the eyes and brain.
Currently, a drug for the brain that would target inflammation causing dementia is not yet in clinical study, but Bearss said they hope by next year it will be ready to be tested. When the company tested the drug targeting brain inflammation on samples of brain cells, he said, the inflammation was gone from the cells and stayed away without having to give continuous doses.
According to Bearss, as people begin to get older, the immune system, meant to protect the body, actually turns against the body. “Aging is driven by inflammation. So, if I could get rid of inflammation, you could live longer; that’s for sure, we can do that,” he said. “We can show in mice or in animals in the lab, we can block inflammation and they live longer. So the cool thing about what we’re thinking about is that if we block these chronic inflammatory diseases, we not only could add years to your life, but you would feel better too.”
The best way for the general public to move this research forward, Bearss said, is to participate in clinical studies when they qualify. A list of open and current clinical studies by Halia Therapeutics can be found by going to https://clinicaltrials.gov/ and searching “Halia.” Links to available clinical trials also are posted on their website, https://haliatx.com/.