Houston—Magnolia Tejas, a new biotech company formed to develop drugs to treat neurological side effects from chemotherapy, has received a grant of nearly $20 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.
Magnolia Tejas is a wholly owned subsidiary of Magnolia Neurosciences, which launched earlier this month with $31 million from investors to develop potential drugs for nervous system disorders based on discoveries at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Magnolia Neurosciences is based in New York and is co-founded by Seattle-based life sciences investment firm Accelerator Life Science Partners and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Magnolia Tejas—“Tejas” came from a Native American word that became “Texas”—is the new name adopted by existing biotech Korysso Therapeutics, and is based in Houston. David Schubert, Accelerator’s chief operating officer, is moving to Houston from Seattle to become the company’s president, at least temporarily. “We’re going to be transitioning that to a senior management team,” he says. “I expect my role to be complete by the end of the year.”
Once Magnolia Tejas receives the CPRIT award (which Schubert says he estimates to be around mid-October,) the company will apply the cash to clinical studies testing its lead molecule to treat conditions such as chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) and chemotherapy-induced cognitive dysfunction (CICD or chemo brain) based on technology developed at MD Anderson’s therapeutics discovery division and its neurodegeneration consortium. The company says it expects to start a Phase 1 clinical trial in the second half of 2019. The cash is expected to be enough to bring the drug through Phase 2a testing.
“The neuropathy and neurocognitive challenges caused by chemotherapy not only decrease a patient’s quality of life, but also can prevent them from completing the optimal chemotherapy regimen, ultimately affecting survival,” Philip Jones, vice president of therapeutics discovery at MD Anderson and a scientific advisor to Magnolia Neurosciences, said in a press release.
The company says there are about two million people in the United States with CIPN, in which drug-damaged peripheral nerves result in patients experiencing pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands and feet. CICD affects more than 200,000 people and is characterized by cognitive and memory problems that can last for years, Magnolia Tejas stated in the press release.
For Schubert, Magnolia Tejas is a return to the Houston life sciences community. From 2012 to 2014, he was executive director of the Houston Area Translational Research Consortium, or HATRC. The organization, known as HATRC (pronounced “hat-trick), served as a “pre-commercialization center” that connected researchers from Rice University and Texas Medical Center institution entrepreneurs with funding and management expertise.
Schubert says the launch of Magnolia Tejas illustrates the potential of Houston’s biotech ecosystem. “This is just one of the deals that’s possible,” he says. “There is great tech here.”