July 01, 2021

Antiseptics have been used in medicine for decades, but the recent development of the first nasal and oral antiseptics to help reduce the spread of COVID-19  has  it’s origins at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.   In 2005,while still a PGY2 ophthalmology resident, Joe Capriotti first started thinking about how to turn the chemistry of povidone-iodine into a new class of drugs. Joe, who had studied chemistry at UC Berkeley and  Columbia University prior to residency, spent his vacation time in Sierra Leone where he studied the relationship between ocular trauma and blinding corneal ulceration. Together with fellow PGY2 Jesse Pelletier, laboratory microbiologist Mahendra Shah  and cornea attending David Ritterband,  this group of NYEEI ophthalmologists was the first to describe the relationship between ocular flora and eye infections in West Africa.   This led Joe to see that the broad-spectrum antimicrobial properties of PVP-I could have potential therapeutic value for eye infections.  Joe, Jesse, their classmate Elad Feldman, their class chief Sam Barone and their close friend in ENT Belachew Tessema all worked together on ways to make  PVP-I safe to use in and around the eye, often making dilutions of the pre-op betadine as they tried to figure out the best formula to use on themselves.

During his residency, Joe partnered with Michael Samson, a uveitis specialist at NYEE, who had the idea to combine  PVP-I with dexamethasone for the  treatment of  viral conjunctivitis.  Together, Joe and Mike started  a company behind this novel treatment which  was eventually sold to a major pharmaceutical company in one of the largest ophthalmology deals ever for a conjunctivitis drug.

In 2015, Joe, Jesse, Elad, Sam and Chew once again returned to PVP-I as they decided to develop new therapies for skin, eye and sinus diseases. They formed a new company, Veloce Biopharma, whose name  many in the NYEEI community will immediately recognize: The company was named after Bar Veloce, a wine bar located near NYEE, where as residents they would often gather to decompress, socialize and study for OKAPs.

Veloce Biopharma has several drugs in the pipeline with promising potential but most recently developed the first PVP-I-based antiseptics specifically for use in the nose and the mouth (halodine.com).  The antiseptics developed by this group of NYEE graduates are the first to have been tested against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and are the only nasal and oral preparations to have inactivated the virus that causes COVID-19 in as little at 15 seconds.  This product has potential to help reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and may be used in addition to universal precautions (hand washing and masks).

When those five young doctors started residency together in 2004 at NYEE, learning the craft of their trade, busy with overnight calls and Saturday clinics, they probably had no expectation that 10 years later, they would form a successful biopharmaceutical company together or that  15 years later, that company would develop one of the most important  weapons  in the battle against the worst pandemic we have witnessed in our lifetimes.   Congratulations to all of them on their new development.   The ties that bind during residency last a lifetime and can lead to unexpected and fortuitous opportunities down the road.

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