By GREGORY ZELLER //
A Feinstein Institute-born biotech will tackle radiation poisoning thanks to a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
TheraSource, a Manhasset-based 2004 startup spun out of Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, has received a $3 million, three-year Small Business Innovation Research grant from the NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health. The grant will support the development of an innovative treatment to alleviate physical damage caused by unintentional radiation exposure.
Specifically, the grant will fund work with human ghrelin, an amino acid peptide hormone and potential “mitigator for nuclear disasters,” TheraSource said in a statement.
Weng-Lang Yang, TheraSource’s chief science officer and principal investigator of the study, will further work started by TheraSource founder Ping Wang, who discovered that administration of human ghrelin significantly increased survival rates and reduced weight loss among irradiated animal models.
Wang, who doubles as the Feinstein Institute’s CSO, noted his company has investigated human ghrelin as a treatment for other indications, and said the work done by Yang’s team – which will collaborate with University of Maryland researchers under the SBIR grant – will open the door to an Investigational New Drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
TheraSource has received several private investments to fund its various projects and is “seeking strategic partnerships towards the goal of clinical development and commercialization,” Wang said in a statement.
Human ghrelin, which is mainly produced by stomach cells, has been found to control a number of physiological activities, ranging from food intake and energy metabolism to cellular death. Its value as a potential treatment for radiation exposure is magnified by the “worldwide progressive increase in the use of nuclear power,” according to TheraSource, which increases the risk of accidental exposure to civilian populations.
In addition to radiological disasters in Chernobyl, Ukraine and Japan, the company referenced the “growing threat” of international terrorism and “geopolitical instability.” And with no approved treatment to counter the often fatal symptoms of gastrointestinal disease cause by high radiation doses, there is an “urgent, unmet medical need,” according to TheraSource.
There’s also a not-insignificant commercial opportunity for the company, which has already enjoyed various commercialization successes, noted Feinstein Institute President and CEO Kevin Tracey.
“One of our missions at the Feinstein Institute is to transition our lab discoveries onto the path of commercialization,” Tracey said. “TheraSource is an example of how we have successfully done this.”
TheraSource – which has showcased its science at such high-profile venues as the 2015 Life Sciences Summit, the 2015 Brain Tumor Biotech Summit and the NIH Innovation Zone – has previously developed other biotechnologies, including tech incorporating human ghrelin, showing promise as innovative treatments for acute kidney injuries, inflammatory bowel disease and a host of other indications.
The company now boasts 14 patents and “three technologies being prioritized for preclinical development,” TheraSource said.
Yang’s team, which consulted with researchers at Stony Brook University’s Center for Biotechnology on a business and technology strategy, will now examine human ghrelin’s efficacy in treating radiation damage to bone marrow and the GI tract.
Diane Fabel – director of operations at the Center for Biotechnology and a lead administrator of the Long Island Bioscience Hub, which recently welcomed the Feinstein Institute as its fourth member organization, joining SBU, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Lab – said the Center for Biotechnology is “proud to have played an integral role in helping TheraSource advance their business and technology strategy.”
“The $3 million SBIR grant is a significant landmark for the company and an important milestone for the region,” Fabel said.