The now privately held biopharmaceutical company, Sangart, was founded by Dr. Robert M. Winslow in 1998. The goal of the company was simple – to develop cost-effective oxygen carriers that could be transfused into patients, in place of red blood cells. In the two decades prior to the founding of Sangart, Dr. Winslow had gained a reputation as a world-renowned leader in the field of oxygen transport within the circulatory system.
During these years, Dr. Winslow and his colleagues were offered grants by both the National Institue of Health and the Department of Defense to specifically study the mechanisms of oxygen transport by cell-free hemoglobin solutions which had shown promise as a possible blood substitute.
Dr. Winslow’s current product, Hemospan (MP4), represents the fruition of years of such research, and is now Sangart’s most promising product. More than anything, the company hopes that Hemospan will ultimately become an additional resource to combat the global shortage of donated blood and the fear of infection associated with ordinary blood transfusion. According to the company:
Hemospan is produced in powder form, allowing it to be stored for years - according to scientists. The powder can then be mixed into liquid form and transfused immediately, regardless of a patient's blood type. Specifically, Hemospan is said to demonstrate a high oxygen transport capability with a low hemoglobin content. The starting material for Hemospan is unmodified hemoglobin from outdated human red blood cells. However, the source could be any form of hemoglobin - human, animal, or recombinant. The genius in its development appears to come in its combination of the human red blood cells with polyethylene glycol (PEG) to eliminate the toxicity associated with free hemoglobin. PEG polymers are readily available, synthetic materials that are attached to the surface of hemoglobin by way of simple chemical reactions. When PEG is attached to the surface of hemoglobin, a thin layer of water is formed around the protein. This surrounding water layer, it turns out, is essential for three reasons - it protects the hemoglobin from the immune system, increases the effective size of the molecule (thereby increasing circulation time), and produces a viscosity that is similar to a native red blood cell.
The primary factors involved in oxygen delivery are molecular size, viscosity, oxygen affinity, and diffusion. Sangart belives that they have optimized these factors in the production of Hemospan, so that their product ultimately presents the right amount of oxygen to the blood vessel wall - a property that the company maintains will prevent the vasoconstriction demonstrated in patients given other hemoglobin-based oxygen carriers. Finally, the company indicates that they will produce 3-5 units of product for every unit of donor blood they use as raw material, which is significantly more efficient than existing products. On top of that, Sangart claims to have developed simple production methods which would allow Hemospan to be a commercially viable product.The relative rapid success of Hemospan, as demonstrated in the timeline below may seem to indicate that such a vision may soon become a real possibility:
8/2/2002 – Sangart reports positive Phase I data for its new oxygen transport agent – Hemospan
8/27/2002 – Sangart receives Notice of Allowance for patent application for Hemospan
12/13/2002 – Sangart receives approval to initiate Phase Ib/II clinical trial for Hemospan in Sweden
5/8/2003 – Sangart announces initiation of Phase Ib/II clinical trial for Hemospan
3/11/2004 – Sangart publishes positive results of its Phase Ib/II clinical trial for Hemospan
4/12/2004 – Sangart receives approval to initiate Phase II clinical trial for Hemospan in Sweden
9/08/2004 – Sangart initiates Phase II clinical trial for Hemospan
11/01/2005 – Sangart announces positive Phase II clinical trial results for Hemospan
12/13/2005 – Sangart issued a U.S. patent for Hemospan oxygen transport agent