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Yissum Licenses Nano Drug-Delivery Tech to Italian Corporate Venture Firm Z-Cube for Pain Rxs

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Yissum, the technology-transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Z-Cube, the corporate venture arm of Italian pharmaceutical firm Zambon, said this week that they have signed an agreement to develop and commercialize a nanotechnology drug-delivery system for treating pain.

The technology is the latest to emerge from the laboratory of Hebrew University researcher Elka Touitou, whose drug-delivery research has previously served as the basis for two startup companies.

Under the terms of the agreement, Z-Cube has received the worldwide exclusive rights to develop and commercialize Touitou's research, which focuses on nanoparticle-based carriers for enhanced drug absorption and efficiency for pain applications. The license also gives Z-Cube the rights to sublicense the technology.

In exchange, Yissum will receive license fees, milestones, and royalty payments, the details of which have not been disclosed. Z-Cube will also sponsor research in Touitou's laboratory.

"We will work to generate data that will help move this further into later stages," Touitou told BTW this week. "The final goal is to have a product on the market." She added that the sponsored research will involve pre-clinical and animal work, "validation of the data, repeating the experiments. The data will hopefully be useful to get to a product," she added.

Touitou, a professor in the department of pharmaceutics, faculty of medicine, at Hebrew University, said that she could not disclose specific details about the technology licensed to Z-Cube due to its proprietary nature. However, she said that when used to deliver pain medications, the technology demonstrates extremely fast action and effectiveness compared to other delivery technologies, though she did not elaborate.

"We have also run pharmacokinetic studies in animals, and found that the effect of the anti-pain drug that we tested, after a very short time following delivery to the brain, was very good," Touitou said.

"This innovative drug-delivery system is a powerful tool enabling the development of improved medicines for the treatment of pain," Lorenzo Pradella, business and operational development director of Z-Cube, said in a statement.

Zambon is a pharmaceutical and chemical multinational based in Bresso, Italy, with some 2,500 employees in 14 countries in Europe, North America, South America, and Asia, and consolidated sales of €483 million ($670.7 million).

Zambon is part of a larger holding company called Zambon Company, whose other subsidiaries include Z-Cube and fine chemicals company ZaCh System.

Z-Cube was founded in 2003 to focus on identifying, investing in, and validating innovative drug-delivery technologies. Part of this strategy involves supporting young life-science startup and spinoff companies with novel therapeutics to address significant unmet medical needs, Z-Cube said. Thus far, it has helped launch three start-ups: PharmEste, SuppreMol, and ProtAffin Biotechnologie.

According to Z-Cube and Yissum, in 2007 the worldwide market for pain management products, excluding over-the-counter products, was approximately $4.2 billion, representing one of the largest pharmaceutical markets.

Touitou has helped Yissum tap into that market and others due to her expertise and entrepreneurship in the drug-delivery field. To wit, Yissum has helped create a pair of startup companies that are actively developing various pharmaceutical products based on Touitou's technologies.

One of those companies, Novel Therapeutic Technologies, was founded in the US in 2003 to commercialize Touitou's "ethosome" drug-delivery system for dermal and transdermal delivery of active pharmaceutical and cosmetic compounds. The ethosome technology differs from the delivery technology licensed to Z-Cube because it is used to deliver drugs topically as opposed to through the blood-brain barrier or central nervous system.

According to NTT, the drug-delivery market is one of the fastest growing markets within the pharmaceutical industry. Estimated at between $11.9 billion and $12.7 billion in 2005, the market is expected to increase to $21.5 billion by 2010 and $31.5 billion in 2015, according to NTT's website.

The second company, which has a Hebrew name that loosely translates in English to Shimnei Eden, is using yet another delivery technology developed by Touitou to develop a jojoba-based sunscreen that does not penetrate or get absorbed by the skin, and thus has no toxicity or side effects, which Touitou said is a growing concern with sunscreens.

As a co-founding organization, Yissum has a small, undisclosed equity stake in both startup companies.

Meantime, Yissum and Touitou are seeking ways to continue to exploit her most recent drug-delivery technology for a number of biomedical applications.

Although Z-Cube and Touitou used existing, approved pain medications to test the drug-delivery technology, "it also works very well with new molecules," Touitou said. "It is a platform technology, and the contract we have with Z-Cube is for pain treatment only." However, her lab has tested the delivery system for other molecules and treatments, including the delivery of copaxone for treating multiple sclerosis, where the lab has had "excellent results in mice," she said.

"We have also tried it in Parkinson's models, and insomnia," Touitou said. "We are in discussion with a number of companies. What is important is that the carrier is delivering the materials in a very effective manner."

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