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Columbia, U of Nebraska License Targeted Cancer Molecules to Spinout Stockbridge Pharma

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Columbia University Science and Technology Ventures has signed a license agreement with startup Stockbridge Pharmaceuticals that will allow Stockbridge to commercialize small-molecule cancer therapeutics developed at both Columbia and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

As part of the arrangement, Columbia and the UNL signed an inter-institutional agreement that makes Columbia the lead on patent prosecution and negotiations, but gives both universities and their faculty inventors an undisclosed equity stake in the company, a Columbia official said this week.

Stockbridge, which is a virtual company based out of the New York office of investment bank and early-stage investor Brimberg & Co., will explore the use of the small molecules for inhibiting insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor, a tyrosine kinase receptor involved in a cell-signaling pathway that has been shown to play a major role in apoptosis.

The IGF-1 receptor pathway has also been shown to play a role in inhibiting apoptosis of cancerous cells, and thus the intact function of the pathway is a precondition for malignancy, Columbia said.

Argiris Efstratiadis, an emeritus professor of genetics and development at Columbia, had developed a mouse model of basal-like breast cancer tumors, and wanted to test small-molecule compounds against the IGF-1 receptor as proof of principle that it plays a crucial role in regulating apoptosis of cancer cells, Jerry Kokoshka, a licensing officer at Columbia STV, told BTW this week.

Kokoshka, Efstratiadis, and STV then tapped David Berkowitz, a professor of chemistry at UNL, to synthesize novel IGF-1 receptor ligands.

"We searched the publications on novel chemistry regarding these ligands, and found that [Berkowitz] was the foremost expert in the field," Kokoshka said. "We called him up and were lucky that he was willing to collaborate with us."

Kokoshka said that he then proposed to the scientists that the schools pool intellectual property related to the discoveries, "and that we raise money from private investors to synthesize molecules and test this in animal models so we could file for a clinical [investigational new drug] application." Thus Stockbridge was formed, sometime around mid-December.

Initial studies of the ligands in the mouse model demonstrated "significant shrinkage of tumor mass," Columbia said. Because basal-like breast cancers generally have a poor prognosis and limited therapeutic options, the researchers posited that it may have a significant effect on other difficult-to-treat tumors.

Brimberg & Co. is set to become an early investor in Stockbridge, and has agreed to pay $250,000 for synthetic chemistry and patent costs, although that money has not yet changed hands, Kokoshka said. Representatives from the bank were unable to respond prior to publication of this article.

Brimberg & Co. co-founder Jack Brimberg will serve as chairman of Stockbridge, while Brimberg & Co.'s Christopher Missling will serve as CEO of the startup.

In a statement, Brimberg said that he was "very impressed by the science. The uniqueness of this approach is very promising for addressing cancers that have not been addressed by other targeted approaches."

Columbia also invested about $20,000 to fund synthesis of the ligands, and also took on the cost of filing patents and other legal documents, Kokoshka said.

"It was a minor investment, but it played a critical role," he said. "We spent much more [on] filing patent applications and creating legal documents than we did on the synthesis.

"The University of Nebraska signed an inter-institutional agreement with Columbia so that it would negotiate on behalf of Nebraska, but we are all basically equal partners on this," Kokoshka said. "Both universities, as well as the investigators, receive some equity," he added, but declined to disclose additional financial details.

Kokoshka said that Stockbridge is now planning to file an IND with the US Food and Drug Administration and begin pre-clinical studies of the ligands. Columbia said the company may begin human trials of a lead drug within 18 months.

In the meantime, Efstratiadis has relocated to Athens, Greece, where he has taken a position with a research institute, the identity of which was unclear as of press time. Kokoshka said that Efstratiadis will remain an emeritus professor with Columbia.

"After we file an IND and do pre-clinical studies, we will do clinical studies in Athens under [Efstratiadis'] advisement," Kokoshka said. "[Stockbridge] will be using [Brimberg's] offices at Rockefeller Center [in New York] going forward; but the clinical testing will be coordinated through the laboratories in Greece."

Kokoshka said that both Efstratiadis and Berkowitz's labs will continue to work on developing the ligands and synthesizing new analogs. He added that Stockbridge is in early discussions with undisclosed consultants that may provide assistance to the company in filing the IND package.

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