The Cleveland Clinic has been stepping up its technology transfer andjoint venture activities over the past few years. Now, the clinic hasdecided to take it to the next level by spinning off some of its mostpromising research into a stand-alone biotechnology company.The company, called Cellect Therapeutics Inc., will focus ondevelopment of products based on the 2-5A-antisense technology. NewYork-based venture capital firm Castle Group Ltd. is providing about$5 million in seed financing, J. Fredrick Cornhill, the clinic's directorof technology transfer, told BioWorld."The political climate at the clinic is right to do it now," Cornhill said."This is a first for us, and we're excited. The technology has a greatattraction in a wide variety of diseases in humans, plants and animals."He said original disease targets are expected to be HIV, restenosis,cancers and other neoplasms.Research on the 2-5A-antisense technology was conducted primarilyby Robert Silverman, a biochemist in the clinic's Cancer BiologyDepartment, and Paul Torrence, a chemist with the NIH. Licensing feesand royalties will be divided between the clinic and NIH, as willproceeds from the sale of any equity. Human clinical trials are expectedin two to three years."It feels very good after having worked on the 2-5A for about a decadeand a half to finally see something come to fruition," Torrence said.Silverman said, "The research is in its early stages, but our results areexciting."Cellect will be set up by holding company and management groupAtlantic Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Northbrook, Ill. Atlantic's CEO,Laurence Shaw, will be Cellect's interim CEO and will staff thecompany and advance research as quickly as possible, he said.Two-part Molecule UsedSilverman, Torrence and other researchers use a two-part moleculesynthesized by Torrence. One part of the molecule is antisense, andattached to that is 2-5A, and enzyme activator. The antisense binds tounwanted messenger RNA, which then is destroyed by the activatedenzyme."Efficacy was demonstrated so far only in the test tube," Cornhill said."We still have to be able to deliver it into cells. The reason to movenow is that the whole approach has great potential as a core andenabling technology for a wide variety of applications."Cornhill said most of the research was funded internally, and therelationship with the NIH was more of a collaboration betweenscientists than organizations.He said some of Cellect's initial research will be contracted. Within ayear, a separate facility will be used to do most of the applied research.Some clinic staff still may have some involvement."It's highly unlikely that all the applications will be developed by thecompany," Cornhill said, adding that he expects field-of-usesublicenses, particularly in non-medical areas. The clinic and the NIHhold joint patents on 2-5A technology covering broad applications, andhave others pending. n

-- Jim Shrine

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