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VOL. 125 | NO. 224 | Wednesday, November 17, 2010


RxBio, ED Labs Use Federal Funds for Drug Development

AISLING MAKI | Special to The Daily News

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Sister companies RxBio Inc. and ED Laboratories have been awarded federal funding to support their bioscience research, which includes the development of drugs to protect against the effects of typically lethal radiation following unintended exposure, as in the case of a nuclear attack.

The two are among six Memphis area companies that recently have been awarded a total of $2.63 million in federal grants or tax credits under the Qualifying Therapeutic Discover Project (TDP), a program created by the Affordable Health Care Act.

The program awards small companies that demonstrate strong potential for developing new and cost-saving therapies.

Under the umbrella of RxBio Holdings Inc., RxBio and ED Laboratories share the same management.

Dr. Shannon McCool, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Pharmacology, serves as chair and CEO of both companies.

“The way we set up the two companies significantly cuts down on our standard overhead. It’s a cost-effective and cost-efficient way to run a start-up until you get that start-up to the point where you can attract significant investment capital and the companies warrant having full-time dedicated management teams,” he said, adding that the two ventures run a “slim and trim operating group.”

“And we have an executive management committee made up of well-known people who have solid credentials in the pharmaceutical industry. We also employ outside experts and entities to assist us on as as-needed basis.”

Both companies have facilities in an incubator space at the UT Baptist Research Park, a bioscience research facility located in the heart of the city’s medical district.

The facility is managed by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, a nonprofit leader in the region’s bioscience industry.

“These kinds of grant dollars coming into Memphis-based companies have a triple impact on our local bioscience community,” said Regina Whitley, executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Business Association, which works with the foundation to promote and advance the region’s bioscience business community. “First, it gives the companies the vital financial resources needed to perfect their technologies and products through continued research and development. That will in turn lead directly to improved procedures that directly benefit patient health here and around the world.

“The second benefit is the job creation that comes from growing companies. Bioscience advancements tend to create jobs at all points along the economic spectrum. And third, receiving grants of this caliber adds to the prestige and legitimacy of our overall Memphis community’s medical and bioscience industry.”

Both RxBio and ED Laboratories are formed around technology developed and licensed at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis.

Their mission is to “develop that intellectual property into marketable products that fill a significant unmet need in the marketplace,” said McCool.

A graduate of UT Health Science Center’s College of Pharmacy, McCool worked for a time as a pharmacist before entering into a career in the pharmaceutical industry. He spent many more years as an industry consultant and served on the Dean’s Advisory Committee for the College of Pharmacy.

About 10 years ago, McCool received a call from the dean saying that several faculty members believed they had made a significant discovery: a compound that protects cells from damage after radiation exposure. The researchers asked him to examine their discovery and offer his opinion.

McCool agreed that they had discovered a viable compound, and several of the inventors decided to form a company, RxBio Inc., to further develop their intellectual property.

That compound, Rx100, is a subcutaneous injection that can be self-administered up to 72 hours after exposure to radiation. It has a long shelf life and can be administered to individuals of all ages, including infants and the elderly.

“If dirty bombs were set off, certainly an agent like this would be helpful. I think if you were in the military in areas where you might get some radiation, these agents would be helpful. And then, if you were in a nuclear power plant and had an accident, that’s another area where that radiation protection would be helpful,” said RxBio co-founder Dr. Duane Miller, who also serves as chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and associate dean of research and graduate studies at UT Health Science Center’s College of Pharmacy.

The Qualifying Therapeutic Discover Project grants will enable RxBio to further research and develop Rx100.

Meanwhile, the QTDP grant awarded to sister company ED Laboratories will fund the further research and development of EDL 2000, an anti-inflammatory compound that possesses some anti-diabetic properties and has also shown promise in regards to preserving life following exposure to dangerous radiation levels.

McCool said a developer-partner has already expressed preliminary interest in the product.

ED Laboratories also works to develop technologies to eradicate or better control typically inoperable or difficult-to-treat brain tumors called glioblastomas, as well as retinoblastomas, tumors on the retina of the eye that generally occur in children.

In addition, the company is working on developing compounds to prevent certain cancers from developing resistance to treatments such as chemotherapy so that patients can potentially be treated at lower doses.

A drug to prevent plaque build-up in the arteries is also in the works, and ED Labs is collaborating with RxBio to develop a new ovarian cancer drug.

“Any funding we get can helps with the moving of these products towards market,” said Miller.

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