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Founder and CEO of Ventoux Biosciences, Kurt Harrington, is making it his mission to find better treatment options for those with Dupuytren’s disease. Courtesy photo
Founder and CEO of Ventoux Biosciences, Kurt Harrington, is making it his mission to find better treatment options for those with Dupuytren’s disease. Courtesy photo
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Encinitas father on mission to find cure for Dupuytren’s disease

ENCINITAS — For Encinitas resident Kurt Harrington, Dupuytren’s contracture is a painful reality that he has learned to live with for the past decade.

But after many years working in the biopharmaceutical world, the genetic disorder inspired Harrington to launch Ventoux Biosciences, helping find more treatments for millions of patients worldwide.

Dupuytren’s contracture (also called Dupuytren’s disease or palmar fibromatosis) is a progressive and debilitating fibrotic disease causing an “abnormal thickening of fascia,” or tissue under the skin in the palm of the hand at the base of the fingers, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The localized fibrosis can develop into hard lumps or a thick band on the hand, causing fingers to curl inward or pull sideways.

Dupuytren’s is estimated to affect 8.2% of the population worldwide and over 30 million patients in the United States and Europe.

Harrington developed the genetic disorder when he was 37 but had previously learned about the disease and its effects firsthand from watching his father’s daily battles with the ailment.

“My dad, he was holding the door for some people as we were leaving a movie theater when I was a kid, and the folks going through the door kind of pushed the door a bit more, so my dad’s hand got pushed backward,” Harrington said. “He could sense something different in his hands as he felt a little bit of a pop or something like that. Within a few weeks, he described what he initially felt was a cramp, and then shortly after that, we saw signs of what the Dupuytren’s was. Several years later, we figured out what it was and had a formal diagnosis.”

Dupuytren's disease causes thickening and tightening of tissue underneath the skin in the palm of the hand, leading to hard lumps and thick bands over time. Stock photo
Dupuytren’s disease causes the thickening and tightening of tissue underneath the skin in the palm of the hand, often leading to hard lumps and thick bands across the hand over time. Stock photo

When it came to his diagnosis, at first, Harrington was unsure of what he had. While Dupuytren’s is genetic, his symptoms started in his knuckles, which was not how it began for his dad.

“I didn’t have any specific physical trauma to my hands when mine started,” Harrington said. “Mine started in my knuckles, and I didn’t know what it was, even though my dad had Dupuytren’s. Of course, as that progressed, we realized a few years later that mine was also Dupuytren’s, and then it progressed to both of our feet.”

For many patients, Dupuytren’s is triggered by a traumatic and specific injury, but it could also just appear seemingly from nowhere. Harrington just developed it, but he has heard of many people getting it after falls or carpal tunnel surgery.

“It’s interesting all the origins from many people I’ve heard from,” Harrington said. “I’ve seen a lot of patients that maybe fall and then talk about having Dupuytren’s appear later. I see a lot of reports about patients that had carpal tunnel surgery and then seeing it appear. It’s a when, where, and how it might awaken that may vary for all patients. That’s the disease; It’s underlying, chronic, and progressive. For some patients, it’s very debilitating.”

Harrington, like many others, has tried all the medical world has to offer to try to subside the pain of the disease, including three hand surgeries and courses for 30 targeted radiation therapy treatments.   

Sadly, these are only temporary fixes for treating the disorder and usually do not last long for most patients, Harrington said.

Dupuytren's disease can also cause the fingers to curl inward or pull sideways. Stock photo
Dupuytren’s disease can also cause the fingers to curl inward or pull sideways. Stock photo

“The gold standard of treatment is surgery where they essentially slice open the skin of the hand, remove the fibrotic tissue, and then close the patient’s hands back up,” Harrington said. “It works initially and works great for people. Some of the challenges of the disease, since it’s a chronic progressive disease, often the disease will come back within three to five years. So subsequent re-treatments via surgery have decreasing outcomes.”

In 2022, Harrington launched his company Ventoux Biosciences to acquire and repurpose proprietary products to treat Dupuytren and other related fibroproliferative, inflammatory diseases with significant unmet medical needs.

“I just thought, given my 25 years in biotech and pharmaceutical product development and commercialization, and given my experience in biotech and also as a guitarist, triathlete and a patient advocate for the disease, I felt like I was uniquely positioned to try and raise my hand and help see if I can find some new therapies.”

The company is currently in pre-clinical trials of two compounds, VEN-201 and VEN-202, both of which they acquired to study their efficacy treating symptoms of Dupuytren.

“We’re developing our strategy to leverage where possible. We’ve worked with my scientific advisory board to identify molecules that we could essentially repurpose and potentially reformulate to help the disease,” Harrington said. “We’re looking to leverage molecules that may have already been in the market and are generic and may have been used for completely different things but may also have antifibrotic effects if you put them in or around where the hand fibrosis or the foot fibrosis is.”