A newly formed drug development company said Wednesdaythat it has exclusive rights to a U.S. patent issued this weekcovering a naturally occurring inhibitor that may mitigate celldamage caused by the body's own immune response.

Udec Pharmaceuticals Inc. of New Haven, Conn., plans toexplore a broad range of inflammatory disease applications forthe complement inhibitor, CD59, including transplantation,autoimmune disease and cardiovascular.

Udec, which was formed last January by Yale UniversityMedical School researchers, said it licensed rights to CD59 fromthe Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) ofOklahoma City, which on Tuesday was issued U.S. patent No.5,135,916.

The licensed technology covers the use of CD59 to specificallyprotect platelets and endothelial cells from the membraneattack complex (MAC). The attack on the cells is caused by theassembly of complement proteins on the cells' surface. CD59appears to disrupt the final steps in the formation of the MAC,according to Leonard Bell, Udec's president and a former YaleUniversity researcher.

"This class of complement inhibitors acts specifically to inhibitthe membrane attack complex, which represents thecomponent of the complement system directly responsible fortissue injury," Bell said.

Platelets are blood-borne cells that assist in coagulation and areoften activated and destroyed in patients with inflammatory orautoimmune diseases. Endothelial cells line the blood vesselsand are often damaged in cardiovascular disease and certainforms of inflammation.

"We believe we can employ the patented technology to thewhole spectrum" of MAC effects, Bell said. He declined tospeculate on when the company might be ready to file aninvestigational new drug (IND) application with the FDA tostart clinical trials of a compound.

Udec is also looking into CD59 technology's potential for slowingplatelet activation in donated whole blood that is stored forlater transfusion. Platelets lose efficacy in stored blood, acondition called platelet storage lesion. "We believe that ourpatented technology may be applied to that lesion," Bell said.

The patent was issued to inventors Peter Sims and ThereseWiedmer, two members of the OMRF's cardiovascular biologyresearch program and also scientific advisers to Udec. The basisfor the Udec-OMRF collaboration started with informal contactsbetween OMRF and Yale researchers about three years ago, Bellsaid.

Udec, which is an acronym for universal donor endothelial cells,was formed to conduct research into potential pharmaceuticaland cell therapy treatments for cardiovascular, immunologicand hemotolgic disorders. It has 16 employees. The companysaid it received all of its initial, undisclosed start-up financingfrom D. Blech & Co. of New York, which is run by biotechnologyfinancier David Blech.

OMRF is a non-profit research institute with 285 employeesand strong positions in immunologic and cardiovascular aspectsof molecular biology. It is located adjacent to the University ofOklahoma School of Medicine, but it is not officially connected.

-- Ray Potter Senior Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.