By Ben Butkus
Receptor Logic said last week that it has received a $200,000 Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the National Cancer Institute to prepare an investigational new drug application in collaboration with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center for the use of T-cell receptor mimic antibodies to treat breast cancer.
Receptor Logic also said that the grant dovetails with a separate grant awarded earlier this year to the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center by the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease to discover new disease-specific biomarkers for West Nile virus in collaboration with Pure Vaccine Solutions, which has licensed the OUHSC technology.
The overlap between the grants occurs because Receptor Logic is a subcontractor on the Pure Vaccine Solutions-OUHSC grant.
In addition, Receptor Logic, which is a spinout of TTUHSC, and Pure Vaccine Solutions are portfolio companies of Emergent Technologies, a life-sciences venture firm that invests in early-stage companies based on university-developed technologies, and particularly those from TTUHSC, OUHSC, and the University of Texas system.
As such, both TTUHSC and OUHSC stand to benefit if any new IP is developed during the course of the collaborations or if either Receptor Logic or Pure Vaccine Solutions is able to market products based on the discoveries.
Under the Phase I STTR announced last week, Receptor Logic will work with the laboratory of TTUHSC investigator and Receptor Logic CSO John Weidanz to study the therapeutic effectiveness of T-cell receptor mimic, or TCRm, antibodies in breast cancer.
The TCRm antibodies, which were originally developed at TTUHSC, are a type of monoclonal antibody that recognizes certain cellular complexes with the same specificity and sensitivity as the naturally occurring T-cell receptor, according to the company's website. The TCRms, can be used in basic research to measure peptide and associated antigen expression on diseased cells and to monitor immune responses.
Receptor Logic has built an IP portfolio of nine pending US patents and 12 pending foreign patent applications for the TCRm technology, including patent applications licensed from TTUHSC under a prior agreement, according to Receptor Logic President Gregory Pogue.
"Certainly new IP can emerge from these studies," Pogue said. "If it falls under our previous agreement then it will be under the license that has already been negotiated. But Weidanz's academic lab also conducts research that is not necessarily related to Receptor Logic's technology platform, and if new IP falls outside of that scope, then it becomes an opportunity for the company to negotiate another license.
Receptor Logic does not have the right to first refusal of any TCRm-related discoveries, but if new IP "falls within the TCR field, it's logical that they'd bring those to our attention, because we have a dominant position in that field. Other groups could license that IP though," Pogue said.
To date, Receptor Logic has focused on oncology applications for the TCR technology, but its involvement as a subcontractor on the OUHSC-Pure Vaccine Solutions grant could help it explore other applications for the technology, particularly in the area of infectious disease.
To that end, Receptor Logic has developed a relationship with William Hildebrand, a researcher at OUHSC and chief scientist at Pure Vaccine Solutions' parent company Pure Protein. Hildebrand's technology uses soluble human leukocyte antigen proteins to identify disease-specific complexes. Pure Vaccine Solutions markets the discovery platform under the name MiraCyte.
"Receptor Logic can then develop [TCRm antibodies] against these disease-specific markers, and then the antibodies can be used to study the expression of the biomarkers in basic biology," said Pogue, who also serves as president of Pure Vaccine Solutions and executive vice president of Pure Protein. "And even more than that, they can be possibly used for therapeutic intervention in virally infected cells."
Hildebrand's group is specifically developing a wide panel of novel biomarkers associated with West Nile-like flaviviruses, and Receptor Logic subcontracts to generate and qualify various TCRm antibodies binding those biomarkers. Pogue said that both groups are also working with researchers at Washington University in St. Louis to test the antibodies in various models for West Nile infection.
The Hildebrand collaboration "will provide additional data showing the efficacy of these antibodies in a new area, a brand new field, and it provides Receptor Logic with candidates that we can offer to companies for partnering," Pogue said.
If new IP or marketable products were to arise from the OUHSC-Pure Vaccine Solutions collaboration, OUHSC would stand to benefit in a similar manner to TTUHSC's relationship with Receptor Logic because of an existing licensing pact between OUHSC and Pure Vaccine Solutions.
In either case, Emergent Technologies, where Pogue also serves as vice president of business development, also stands to benefit.
Founded in 1999, Emergent Technologies operates under a so-called "invention capital" model, in which it provides gap investments to promising university technologies, but also provides technical and business expertise, industry networking, marketing and communications support, and other services.
Since 1999, Emergent has invested an undisclosed amount of money in technologies like those from Hillenbrand's and Weidanz's labs through different funds, with each fund focusing on technologies from a particular institution. These include ETI Funds I, II, and II Annex, all started in 1999 to support technologies developed at the UOHSC; Fund III, started in 2004 to invest in technologies from TTUHSC; and its current Fund IV, started in 2007 to focus on technologies developed within the UT system.
Still, Receptor Logic may emerge as the biggest beneficiary because both grants further validate its technology and support the acceleration of its lead candidates for breast cancer toward clinical testing, the company said.
In addition, the $200,000 STTR grant, when added to other undisclosed grants and its contract with OUHSC and Pure Vaccine Solutions, mean the company has revenue potential of more than $1.3 million over the next five years, Pogue said.