Houston’s Fannin Innovation Studio has spun out its latest company, a biotech called Acelerox that aims to use nanoparticle technology to treat a variety of autoimmune and other disorders.
Acelerox has been formed out of a licensing deal with Rice University. It’s based on novel nanoparticles developed by James Tour, a synthetic chemist and a Rice professor.
Atul Varadhachary, Fannin’s managing partner and the president of Acelerox, told me that the nanoparticles—known as PEG-HCC, or pegylated-hydrophilic carbon clusters—may have broad potential. They might help fight a number of autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and even injuries from strokes or traumatic brain injury.
“This is the first molecule that we’re aware of that has this range of attributes,” he says.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system misfires and attacks some part of one’s own body. In MS, for instance, that attack is on the myelin sheath covering nerve cells. Acelerox believes that its nanopartices may help tamp down the immune response that characterizes MS, or other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. For patients suffering from stroke or who are undergoing kidney transplants, Varadhachary says Acelerox’s eventual therapy could help offset the effects of ischemia/reperfusion injury. When those events occur, cells that have been deprived of blood go into overdrive and make more metabolic byproducts than the body can process.
Current treatments for MS include Biogen Idec’s (NASDAQ: BIIB) oral drug, dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera), and competing pills from Novartis (fingolomid, sold as Gilenya) and Sanofi/Genzyme (alemtuzumab, sold as Lemtrada).
Chris Durst, Acelerox’s director of research and development, says the startup’s therapy is different than these other drugs because it has a different mechanism of action.
Durst says that dimethyl fumarate, for example, acts on all reactive oxygen species (ROS)— molecular byproducts that can damage cells or tissues—whereas Acelerox’s drug candidate is more specific, only impacting cells that are implicated in disease, and the ROS that cause tissue damage.
“Our molecule is intrinsically an antioxidant so it acts directly on the ROS, which are required for the activation of the cells that cause the symptoms of [MS] or rheumatoid arthritis,” he says.
Acelerox is the latest company for Fannin, which functions as both an accelerator and a venture capital firm. The Houston-based firm currently has 10 portfolio companies, which include Procyrion, a medtech device startup that makes Aortix, a thinner-than-a-pencil circulatory support pump implanted in the aorta through the femoral artery via a catheter. The device is designed to help heart failure patients by helping the damaged heart push more blood through the circulatory system and on to vital organs.
Fannin has invested about $1 million in cash and in-kind support to Acelerox. Fannin’s model is to incubate its portfolio companies and provide shared management, thereby taking those costs off of the books of young biotech companies.
Over the next nine months or so, Acelerox will work to further develop the nanoparticle technology, do preclinical testing, and build out its manufacturing process, Durst says. If all goes well, the biotech could begin phase I clinical trials in 18 months, he added.