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Aurum Ventures Funds Development of Yissum Delivery Tech for Controlled-Release Oral Rxs

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This article has been updated from a previous version to clarify Hebrew University's contributions to specific pharmaceutical products.

Yissum, the technology-transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Aurum Ventures plan to co-develop and commercialize a controlled-release drug-delivery platform for oral administration, Yissum said this week.

The agreement is the second delivery-technology deal in as many months for Yissum, which has been particularly successful at parlaying drug-delivery research conducted at Hebrew University into marketed products.

According to a Yissum spokesperson, the tech-transfer arm took in some $60 million in revenues in 2008, largely from the sales of a pair of blockbuster drugs – OrthoBiotech's Doxil and Novartis' Exelon. The delivery technology behind Doxil was developed at Hebrew University.

Under the terms of the most recent agreement, Aurum Ventures will initially provide $500,000 to fund a pre-clinical feasibility study to assess the safety and efficacy of the technology to deliver an existing undisclosed intravenous drug used to treat solid tumors, the spokesperson said this week.

In exchange, Aurum receives the right to license the reformulated cancer drug, as well as an option to invest in the platform delivery technology. Additional terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Aurum Ventures, based in Ramat-Gan, Israel, is the technology-investment company of Morris Kahn, an Israeli philanthropist and entrepreneur. Aurum invests in Israeli and Israeli-related companies in the life-science and clean-tech spaces.

Simon Benita, a professor at the Hebrew University's School of Pharmacy, developed the delivery technology at the center of the deal to increase the bioavailability of lipophilic drugs, which are poorly soluble in water and thus have limited bioavailability and clinical efficacy.

In addition, Yissum said, when administered orally around a quarter of all lipophilic drugs cannot be absorbed by the body because they activate an intestinal pump barrier and are metabolized in the intestines and liver.

Benita's drug-delivery system, which is based on proprietary nanotechnology, is designed to enable oral formulations to bypass intestinal and liver metabolic filters, thereby increasing their bioavailability, Yissum said.

If successful, the technology could improve patient compliance because intravenous formulations typically must be administered by a healthcare professional; and because pills and elixirs are also less invasive and usually yield fewer adverse events than their intravenous counterparts.

Yissum said that earlier Benita-led preclinical experiments studying the delivery technology in mice have shown that it increased by 2.4-fold the bioavailability of Tacrolimus, a highly lipophilic immunosuppressant. When administered intravenously, the drug, which is used to prevent organ transplant rejection, is poorly and variably absorbed and is marked by intestine and liver metabolism.

"We are very excited with the potential of the technology to offer a significant breakthrough in the oral administration of many drugs and [are] encouraged by the preclinical results," Dan Gelvan, managing director for life sciences at Aurum Ventures, said in a statement.

"We are looking forward to the results of the initial part of our collaboration, which we believe will provide a novel, more convenient, and safer therapeutics approach compared to intravenous injections," Gelvan added.

Yissum's deal with Aurum is not the first involving Benita's research. In 2000, Benita co-founded Yissum spinout Novagali, which is developing a broad portfolio of ophthalmic products with improved bioavailability.

The Aurum agreement also marks the latest in a series of drug-delivery development deals for Yissum.

Last month, Yissum said that it had inked an agreement with Z-Cube, the corporate venture arm of Italian pharmaceutical firm Zambon, to develop and commercialize a nanotechnology-based drug-delivery system for an orally administered analgesic (see BTW, 5/27/2009).

That deal stemmed from the laboratory of Hebrew University researcher Elka Touitou, whose drug-delivery research had previously served as the basis for two startup companies.

Technology transfer in the area of drug delivery is "one of Yissum's biggest strengths," based primarily on research conducted at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy, a Yissum spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to BTW. At least 10 of the school's faculty members focusing on drug-delivery research, and Yissum has licensed and has available for licensing "numerous" technologies in the field, the spokesperson said.

In addition, out of Yissum's 60 subsidiaries, more than 10 are in the field of drug delivery, including Novagali, Nutralease, Nasvax, Intec Pharma, NTT, and Eden Oils.

The widely used ovarian cancer drug Doxil, which is a liposomal formulation of the cancer agent doxorubicin, was co-developed by Yechezkal Barenholz of Hebrew University and Alberto Gabizon of Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem.

Doxil, which is sold in the US by Ortho Biotech, in Israel by Janssen-Cilag, and in the rest of the world excluding Japan by Schering-Plough, had worldwide sales of about $430 million last year. It is unclear exactly what Yissum's financial stake is in Doxil.

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