07 Jun QBI's PreserveX product passes initial test
Madison, Wis. – Ralph Kauten is taking direct aim at three unfavorable metrics, and one of his newest weapons just passed an early test.
Kauten, CEO of QBI Life Sciences, recently received good news from an initial screening of its PreserveX Polymeric Micelles, a core product. The screening, which employed UGT1A1, an enzyme that metabolizes things that enter the body and is used to determine whether a drug will become active once inside the body, confirmed the compatibility of PreserveX with high-throughput screening assays that can perform as many as 400 tests at one time.
The announcement was made during a presentation by Olga Trubetskoy, a QBI Life Sciences research fellow, at the International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics (ISSX) European annual meeting in Manchester, England. It also could bring good cheer throughout the pharmaceutical industry.
Through QBI, a Madison biotech working in membrane protein research, Kauten is trying to address three metrics that bedevil drug companies: the fact that it takes an average of 16 years to get a drug to market; that pharmaceutical companies will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop each drug; and that most drugs fail and never reach the market.
“These are the metrics we’re trying to change,” Kauten explained. “If we do, we will reduce the cost of medications, and make it feasible to develop drugs for rare diseases.”
Until now in drug discovery, one challenge has involved membrane proteins. They have not been well understood because the extraction of membrane proteins from their natural environment can reduce stability and therefore activity, making screening for biological responses problematic.
Another part of the challenge in turning compounds into drugs is that some compounds can bind to any protein. These “promiscuous” compounds cause the false positives that give researchers every reason to believe they may have discovered an effective new drug.
The time consuming and costly nature of drug discovery is one reason that pharmaceutical companies are not working to develop drugs for rare diseases – the cost is higher, and the size of the population that benefits is smaller, making it less likely that “pharma” will recoup its investment.
Kauten said improving metrics of drug discovery also would contribute to the cause of personalized medicine. For example, people with Multiple Sclerosis are treated with basically the same medication, even though a certain percentage of them don’t respond to the drugs and need a more individualized approach. By lowering the cost of drug development, companies would have more incentive to develop drugs that benefit smaller segments of the population.
PreserveX has shown promise in reducing the incidence of false positives, but its utility must be proven across different classes of proteins, not just an enzyme like UGT1A1. Kauten believes the product will give researchers the ability to isolate, stabilize, and preserve activity of the membrane proteins, which can lead to better drug discovery techniques.
In addition to the membrane protein stabilizing reagents, QBI has developed surface coatings for membrane proteins and what it calls “optimal media” for cell-surface proteins.
The company has reached this point with the help of a grant from the National Institutes of Health under the NIH’s Roadmap for Medical Research. However, unlike Small Business Innovation Research awards, there is no Phase II money for the “roadmap” grants, so the next round of testing will require QBI to collaborate with industry partners that have an interest in testing drugs against various classes of proteins.
“We’re in discussions with potential collaborators that may result in building revenue for PreserveX and a number of other products that we have,” Kauten said.
QBI is a division of Quintessence Biosciences, Inc., which is seeking between $5 million and $10 million in private funding to test its Evade technology in human clinical trials. The technology, developed by UW researchers from a protein that plays a role in digesting food, has been modified to produce a drug that is toxic to cancer cells.
Kauten said Quintessence would like to start the human clinical trials by the end of 2007, and has been in contact with venture capital firms Mason Wells and Venture Investors. Mason Wells is in the process of developing another fund to support Wisconsin firms, and Venture Investors recently announced the formation of a $69 million fund to invest in 20 Wisconsin and Midwestern companies.