By Brady Huggett
Two North Carolina universities are spinning off their intellectual property into Kucera Pharmaceutical Co., and the new company will look to target cancer and viruses with its phospholipid drug delivery technology.
Louis Kucera, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Wake Forest University and the namesake behind the new company, holds five U.S. patents. He also has four pending U.S. and worldwide patents relating to his work with phospholipids. The Wake Forest University School of Medicine, located in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have licensed those patents out to Kucera Pharmaceutical.
Kucera, the company, just closed its seed funding round, for ¿less than a million, at this point,¿ from Winston-Salem-based Academy Funds, said Spencer Lemons, director of Wake Forest¿s Office of Technology Asset Management. That money should lead the way to more, he said.
¿Part of the initial funding is to get the door open and start paying some salaries and paying for plane tickets to go talk to other investors,¿ Lemons told BioWorld Today.
Phospholipids have been around for some time, and Kucera has been studying them for years. Working with Boehringer Mannheim GmbH, of Mannheim, Germany, Kucera coupled phospholipids with the HIV drug AZT, Lemons said. That combination got through Phase I and Phase II trials, before F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland, acquired Boehringer Mannheim and shelved the product.
Since then, Kucera has forged ahead, Lemons said.
¿What Kucera has done is continue working on the phospholipid molecules and struck upon this new class,¿ he said. ¿In some tests, the new combination has shown to be 10 times as effective.¿
Now, however, the technology has a company of its own to back it. Russ Read, the CEO of Kucera Pharmaceutical, explained how the technology works.
¿With antiviral or anticancer drugs, most are broken down by the body in some way,¿ he said. ¿This technology, when you bind it to a drug which is of the right molecular weight to be bound, and it has the right atomic configuration to be bound, the drug will go right into the cell. In the cell, [the phospholipid] is cleaved off and leaves the drug right at the spot of the problem.¿
Also, Read said, the fat molecules are attracted to other fat molecules, something that helps the crossing of the blood-brain barrier. And because the phospholipid binding impedes breakdown, patients need ¿less drug to get effect because you are delivering it more effectively,¿ he said.
Kucera Pharmaceutical will look for revenues in two ways. It plans to license its technology out to partners, Read said, and in fact has one unnamed partnership now focused on hepatitis B and C. Secondly, it plans to develop its own drugs by attaching its phospholipids to other products, including ones about to come off patent, thus giving them new life and an alternate form of delivery.
¿For instance, with existing anticancer agents, some of them can only be administered intravenously,¿ Read said. ¿And we think we have a way to make them oral.¿
Read has more than 25 years in the pharmaceutical business, and is a ¿spin-off¿ himself, he said, from the Glaxo plc and Wellcome plc merger in 1995. He is the lone full-time employee of Kucera Pharmaceutical, although the company is looking to bring on a scientific officer in mid-August and hire a total of three people in the next year. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 24, 1995.)
The company¿s Series A round should happen soon, Read said, perhaps in the next four to nine months. Lemons said most of those first-round investors likely would be homegrown, and added ¿the availability of capital in North Carolina has really grown over the past years.¿
But Kucera Pharmaceutical has what many young companies have: an empty stomach.
¿We¿ve sized up the competition and we know we have a competitive advantage,¿ Read said. ¿We are hungry in that we want to get out there and start talking to partners.
¿I think it would be interesting to see the resurrection of some drugs that people thought were closing in on the end of their life cycles. And some earlier-stage drugs that we could give an extended patent life to or get the best application of the drug.¿