The Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport last week finalized a licensing agreement with Massachusetts drug developer Aphios, allowing the company to develop the compound bryostatin-1 as a possible localized treatment for organ transplant rejection.
The deal is a result of a nearly three-year research partnership between Aphios and LSUHSC-S, and is the latest product of a concerted effort at LSUHSC-S to ramp up collaboration between its faculty and industry, a school official told BTW this week.
"We've just really started doing licensing in the last three years," said Tony Giordano, assistant dean for research and business development at LSUHSC-S. "We're relatively new to this game, and have been working with the faculty to start educating them and getting them interested and appreciating [the] value of commercialization."
As a result, Giordano said, LSUHSC-S has seen its disclosures and patent filings increase three- to five-fold over the past three years, and has seen a rise in its licensing agreements, as well.
He estimated that annually, the school now collects about 20 invention disclosures, files a dozen patent applications, and inks two or three license agreements — "a very small level, but it's going up," Giordano said. "The excitement here on the local campus is that the faculty members are coming into my office on a daily basis to talk about possible inventions."
LSUHSC-S' tech-transfer operations are distinct from its sister campus, LSUHSC-New Orleans, and its parent school, Louisiana State University, both of which have been at tech transfer longer than LSUHSC.
"Each campus works with the company, does the marketing for an invention, and negotiates their own licenses," Giordano said. "Then it has to go to the [LSU] system office for review, and once they think it's in good shape, it has to go to the board of supervisors for the LSU system." For the Aphios agreement, this last step was completed late last week, he added.
Any licensing revenues from licensed inventions are split so that the LSU system receives 10 percent of the profits, the LSUHSC-S campus 50 percent, and the inventor or inventors 40 percent.
The licensing agreement with Aphios is the fourth deal LSUHSC-S has consummated in the area of therapeutics; the others have been in the field of research reagents, according to Giordiano.
Aphios, a company based in Woburn, Mass., develops technology platforms and therapeutics with a focus on natural products for health maintenance, disease prevention, and the treatment of certain infectious diseases, cancers, and CNS disorders.
Trevor Castor, Aphios' CEO, told BTW this week that in the late 1990s, the company received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health to isolate and manufacture bryostatin, which is naturally found in the coral-like sea animal Bugula neritina, and which NIH was investigating as a cancer therapeutic.
Aphios patented its process, and in addition to supplying the compound to research labs, it began investigating its therapeutic possibilities beyond oncology. Under a research agreement with LSUHSC-S, Aphios began supplying the compound to the laboratory of Steven Alexander, an associate professor of molecular and cellular physiology.
Alexander's lab examined the possibility of using it as a local treatment for organ transplant rejection. This in turn spurred the signing of the recent licensing agreement.
"There was no money exchanged" as part of the research collaboration, LSUHSC-S' Giordano said. "But bryostatin is a fairly expensive compound that [Aphios] provided free of charge, so I would consider it a form of sponsored research.
"We're trying to get our faculty involved with companies through sponsored research and collaborative efforts like this," he added. "If, as in this case, they can find a new use for a drug, we file a patent on it. And in this case the company liked the new use, and worked with us, and licensed the technology." The patent application, which has not yet been published, primarily covers applications of the drug in transplantation and inflammation.
For its part, Aphios is "always searching for potential applications for drugs that we develop and manufacture, because it expands the opportunities not only for therapeutic indications, but also for financial reasons," Castor said.
Details of the agreement were not disclosed, but Castor told BTW that it was "standard" in terms of including an up-front payment, milestones, and royalties.
Because the therapeutic is being developed for a localized application, "there is a higher potential for getting this to market faster than going for a systemic route," Castor said.
Aphios is also working with other non-profit or related entities to explore therapeutic applications for bryostatin-1. For instance, it has a research agreement with Spanish company VivaCell Biotechnology, a spinout of the Universidad de Córdoba, in the area of HIV latency.
"When bryostatin-1 is combined with [histone deacetylase] inhibitors, it has been shown therapeutically to release latent HIV-related particles that can then be inactivated or killed by antiretroviral drugs," Castor said.
In addition, Aphios is collaborating with the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Morgantown, W.Va., to develop improved nanotechnology formulations of bryostatin-1 for treating Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive disorders. "Future plans are to conduct clinic trials on the nanoformulated drug and out-license the developed bryostatin-1 formulation," Castor said.