Bioasis Technologies said last week that it has entered into its second collaborative research agreement in the last month with the University of British Columbia around p97, a biomarker for Alzheimer's disease.
Under the most recent agreement, researchers from UBC and Bioasis will investigate the use of p97 as a delivery system to transport Alzheimer's compounds across the blood-brain barrier, based on evidence that p97 can shuttle anti-cancer drugs into the brain to treat malignant brain tumors.
Last month, Bioasis and UBC said that they had inked their first research collaboration to develop and test a p97-based enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay blood test to diagnose and monitor Alzheimer's.
The two agreements are linked only by the fact that they focus on the p97 molecule and that they will be conducted with UBC's Michael Smith Laboratories, named after the late Michael Smith, a former UBC faculty member and Nobel Prize-winning chemist.
"Once you arrange one collaborative research agreement with a university, it's pretty easy to get the second one through," Rob Hutchison, director and CEO of Bioasis, told BTW this week.
"We want to investigate and [further develop] an Alzheimer's disease test, which looks for elevated levels of p97 in blood serum," Hutchison added. "But the secondary thing that was discovered is that p97, since it is a physiological protein produced in human brains, has a unique physiological characteristic of being able to transverse the blood-brain barrier."
Bioasis, based in Vancouver, BC, said that the R&D collaborations with UBC should add to the company's IP portfolio, the bulk of which was originally licensed from the university when the company was founded in 2007.
Hutchison said that Bioasis acquired an IP portfolio comprising about two dozen patents and patent applications from two parties: UBC and Wilfred Jeffries, a professor of medical genetic and microbiology and immunology at the school.
"They each held a series of patents, and we wound those patent families into a private corporation called Bioasis, of which UBC is a significant shareholder. They don't hold a control position or an insider block, but they have a strong position in the company," Hutchison said.
Jeffries and the other 10 or so co-inventors of the patents also received shares in Bioasis in exchange for the transfer of IP to the company. It is unclear whether Bioasis' licensing agreements with UBC are exclusive.
Bioasis went public in March of last year, at which point the company also raised $975,000 in private equity. It also raised another $500,000 in private equity earlier this month, and now has about $2.5 million in cash – "enough to meet our 2009 scientific budget and operational costs," Hutchison said.
UBC's Jeffries will also be the principal investigator on the pair of research collaborations with Bioasis.
"They have done some work in the lab that has led us to believe there can be some continuations to the existing IP dealing with some characteristics of being able to use p97 to bind therapeutics to it but also to monitor the effectiveness of therapeutics," Hutchison said.
Development of an ELISA-based Alzheimer's diagnostic is further along in its development, and is based on the idea that p97 is a well-characterized biomarker for the disease.
"The easiest way to describe p97 is that it is a rust inhibitor," Hutchison said. "When people start to suffer from Alzheimer's they start to get beta-amyloid plaques, which are akin to getting rust on the car. The brain produces p97 as a rust inhibitor to go find those iron particles and express them out of the brain."
Hutchison said that Bioasis and UBC hope to develop a technology that can see whether an Alzheimer's drug is working in a patient. "Normally it takes a physician who is very skilled at cognitive skills tests quite a long time to be able to see the progression of Alzheimer's once it's diagnosed," he said. "But we believe we'll be able to monitor the effectiveness of therapeutics on almost a month-to-month, or at least a quarterly basis."
The second research project is based on research published last year in PLoS One by Jeffries and others that showed how chemotherapeutic compounds paclitaxel and adriamycin could be conjugated to p97 for more efficient delivery in mouse brain tumor models.
"Because p97 has the ability to bridge the blood-brain barrier, it essentially enabled us to deliver those compounds with a higher efficacy and strength than they would have on their own," Hutchison said.
The development timeline for the drug-delivery technology is currently longer than that of the diagnostic assay, Hutchison said, adding that Bioasis is "very much focused on finding collaborators [such as] large biotech or pharmaceutical companies that are interested in potentially using our IP and molecule to be able to deliver their therapeutics, antioxidants, or antibodies through the blood-brain barrier."
Meantime, the company is working with UBC to conduct additional research on the ELISA-based Alzheimer's diagnostic and ready it for regulatory review.
"It's getting it to a point where we can get it out as a physician's aid to diagnose Alzheimer's and to apply to regulatory bodies for that test," Hutchison said. "For a blood test, you don't necessarily require approval in the US. But in order to be able to license it off to the likes of a Roche Diagnostics or Quest, it's much easier if you have some kind of certification."