Fralin Biomedical Research Institute biotech spin-out raises $305K
A cancer stem cell research company founded by Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC scientists is nearing a million dollars in total funding toward development of a new therapeutic to fight drug-resistant cancers such as glioblastoma multiforme and metastatic disease including triple negative breast cancer.
Acomhal Research Inc. was recently awarded $305,000, including $150,000 from the Virginia Tech Carilion Seed Fund, $100,000 from the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) GAP Funds Program, and $55,000 from the CommonWealth Angels investment group. Those funds follow $625,000 the company received in Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants over the previous four years. The VIPC was formerly the Center for Innovative Technology.
“We need to rethink how we treat cancer. Resistance and recurrence result from distinct mechanisms to the original tumor,” said Samy Lamouille, Acomhal’s co-founder and chief executive officer, and an assistant professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “Having spent over 20 years in the cancer research and drug development field, I am very excited about the direction Acomhal is taking in development of our novel therapeutic approach.”
Cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, with more than half a million deaths per year. Many forms of cancer present serious treatment challenges, but a population of “cancer stem cells” within tumors are especially resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. Even a small number of cancer stem cells can rapidly fuel the growth of new tumors if they aren’t eradicated.
Acomhal is developing a novel peptide drug that targets and kills cancer stem cells, preventing them from seeding new tumors. It works by competing with a protein, connexin43, for binding sites on cancer stem cells’ microtubules, hollow protein pipes that cells need to transport proteins, grow, and move.
Lamouille’s research also has shown that when connexin43 is unable to bind to microtubules, metastatic cancer cells become less invasive, further limiting the ability of cancer to spread in addition to cancer stem cell loss.
Lamouille and Robert Gourdie, the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund Eminent Scholar in Heart Reparative Medicine Research and director of the Center for Vascular and Heart Research at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, co-founded the company five years ago with an initial focus on glioblastoma, a brain cancer that’s often lethal within two years for most patients. The company was quickly recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Universities.
Acomhal expanded its focus to include breast cancer, and is now researching use of its peptide against colon, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
“With the help of local investors in Virginia, and through continued collaborations at Virginia Tech and Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, our goal is now to pursue human clinical trials and directly impact patients’ lives in our fight against this devastating disease” Lamouille said.