Acute kidney injury can be devastating for patients, resulting in chronic kidney disease, end-stage renal disease, stroke and heart attack.

There’s currently no effective treatment for the condition, which the World Health Organization estimates affects some 78 million people each year. The only option is supportive care like dialysis which requires patients to rearrange their lives around lengthy hospital treatment sessions.

Atorvia is looking to change that. A woman-led biotech startup headquartered in the Ottawa area, Atorvia is developing novel treatments that target the molecular causes underlying kidney damage.

The company was recently named the inaugural winner of the Blue Ticket competition at the University of Toronto Mississauga’s SpinUp wet lab incubator. Sponsored by pharmaceutical company Merck, the Blue Ticket program aims to empower the next generation of global health innovators.

As prize winner, Atorvia receives a free one-year membership to SpinUp, an up-front cash prize and mentorship from scientific and business leaders at Merck.

“This opportunity is game-changing for us,” said Jane Lapon, founder of Atorvia. “It will help us to accelerate faster.”

Among Atorvia’s key innovations is a treatment that addresses acute kidney injury that occurs as a complication of cardiac surgery. The company is developing medicine that can be administered before a patient undergoes cardiac surgery, in order to help prevent kidney failure.

While preliminary experiments have been carried out, the company needed dedicated space and equipment to conduct further lab work – something that’s hard to come by for biotech startups with limited financial resources. “The fact that SpinUp was there with availability, and was subsidized, was fantastic,” Lapon said.

“Because we’re getting the mentoring with Merck as well, it means that we can develop this medicine and hopefully get it to patients sooner. We’ve got this expertise to help us along the way.”

Lapon said startups often face a “very lonely journey,” but that the mentorship and financial resources provided by Merck, as well as SpinUp’s vast network, will provide much-needed support. “One of the advantages of SpinUp is that we’ve got access to University of Toronto researchers and the potential to then partner with some of the researchers, as well as students and co-op students,” Lapon said. “With the resources we have, there is a very high probability that we would have this ready to go into trials during our first year at SpinUp.”

She said team is currently gearing up to re-run previous experiments and conduct new ones in order to validate the medicine and prepare for filing with health authorities.

Kent Moore, vice-principal, research at U of T Mississauga, said he looks forward to tracking Atorvia’s progress. “Strong partners like Merck enable us to enhance the support SpinUp offers to propel promising early-stage startups,” said Moore. “We’re delighted to be working with Merck to help drive Atorvia’s innovative approaches forward through Merck’s mentorship support and SpinUp’s wet lab capabilities and programming.”