By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
We have been following local start-up 490 BioTech for more than three years since posting our initial article in May of 2012.
Like many new ventures in the life science space, grant funding is extremely critical to its success. When we recently talked with Chief Scientific Officer Dan Close, we heard some really positive news on the funding front with two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“The NIH has officially announced that they will be funding our Phase II effort in the amount of one million dollars over the next two years,” he said. “This enables our R&D to move forward with the continued development of Tier 1 screening assays for the detection of endocrine disruptor chemicals.”
In addition, NIH also awarded a Phase I SBIR grant to 490 BioTech to apply its technology toward developing autonomously bioluminescent stem cells.
The Phase II grant will address a significant global need.
Close explained that endocrine disruptor chemicals are primarily recognized by the consumer in the form of bisphenol-A (BPA) and the various plastics that are marketed as BPA-free. He added that chemicals like BPA mimic human hormones. Once they are ingested, they can interfere with the delicate balance of the human endocrine system and potentially cause significant health effects.
“Many of these compounds have suggested links to infertility; premature puberty; obesity; diabetes; heart disease; and breast, prostate, testicular, thyroid, endometrial, and ovarian cancers,” Close noted. “These types of chemicals number in the tens of thousands and are in use in consumer products worldwide.”
He said the U.S., European Union, and Japan have substantial screening programs in place to test these chemicals for their effects on human and animal health and safety. Unfortunately, many of the testing formats being applied use non-human cells (most typically rat cells) to determine if the chemicals have an endocrine disruptor effect.
“With rats and humans not quite being the same thing, it is often very difficult translating the results seen in rat cells to consequent health effects seen in humans,” Close explained. “There is a push within government agencies worldwide to move toward screening assays that are more human-centric.”
That’s music to the ears of the 490BioTech team that also includes Gary Sayler, Chief Executive Officer; Steve Ripp, Chief Operating Officer; and Stacey Patterson, Chief Technology Officer.
“490 BioTech’s human cell-based assays seemed to have fit the need for the National Institutes of Health quite well,” Close said. “We now will have the opportunity to move forward with the optimization and validation of our bioluminescent human cell technology to create cheaper, better, and faster assays for endocrine disruptor chemicals that we anticipate will significantly contribute toward improved human health safety.”
The Phase I SBIR from the NIH is focused on an important need in an early stage research field.
“Stem cells are the key to regenerative medicine, a therapeutic approach to functionally grow and heal previously irreparable tissues and organs,” Close explained. “In regenerative medicine applications, stem cells are designed to migrate to the area of tissue injury and begin their repair processes to heal any damage they find.”
He said there is a need in the still evolving stem cell research field to visually track where the stem cells actually go to determine how effective this migration process is.
“With our ability to potentially design stem cells that emit light, we offer a technology that enables stem cells to be continuously visualized as they navigate the body, thereby providing a new tool to the regenerative medicine R&D market,” Close added.
The company’s core technology was licensed from the University of Tennessee Research Foundation.