New Tucson company offers hope of faster cancer drug development

Tucson 06 April 2009New University of Arizona spin-off company Luceome Biotechnologies will make a new technology - called Kinase Seeker - available to academic labs and drug companies worldwide. The technology could speed the development of drugs to treat cancers and other diseases. The company is owned and run by BIO5 member Indraneel Ghosh, who is the Weed Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the University of Arizona College of Science, and by former ImaRx Therapeutics Operations Vice President Dr. Reena Zutshi, who will serve as Luceome's chief executive officer. Indraneel Ghosh will initially serve as chief scientific officer and then transition into an advisory role.

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Indraneel Ghosh built on his earlier research into detecting DNA molecules to create Kinase Seeker. Kinases are proteins (enzymes) that can act to trigger cell growth in cancer patients. Seeking out other small molecules that bind to these kinases - essentially keeping them occupied so that they can't cause abnormal cell growth - is one way of developing cancer drugs. The "fit" between a kinase and a kinase blocker needs to be fairly precise, though, which means that the process of finding kinase blockers can take some time.

Kinase Seeker emits light from a firefly protein - bioluminescence - when kinase and kinase blocker meet, which speeds this process up considerably. "Our ability to sensitively detect light is very very high", Indraneel Ghosh explained. "You can detect very small changes in light, and so the read-out is very clean."

Ultimately Kinase Seeker may help researchers develop drugs to treat other disease as well, including diabetes, inflammation, and heart disease, and almost any other disease in which a molecule normally binds to some part of a cell to ill effect. "All of biology is determined by binding events", Indraneel Ghosh stated. "If there is any binding event that leads to some disease, we can use this method."

Indraneel Ghosh and Reena Zutshi created Luceome - the name comes from the Italian word for "light" - to more effectively get Kinase Seeker out to the labs and drug companies who can most make use of it. "We really think that to get it out there you need to have personal involvement", Indraneel Ghosh stated. With approval from the University of Arizona and The Arizona Board of Regents, Indraneel Ghosh can assist in getting the technology up and running. "I think in general the University of Arizona is very supportive of researchers building companies based on technology developed here", Indraneel Ghosh stated.

"If Luceome leads to the development of new drugs, that's very exciting", he added, especially if those drugs can be developed more quickly and with fewer false leads than before. "Health care is too expensive, and ultimately this is a way to make cheaper drugs. That's good for society in general."

He noted that launching any new company in the current economic climate is also good for Arizona. "If you can employ any new people, that's beneficial", Indraneel Ghosh stated, adding that like all local biotechnology companies, Luceome has a role to play in helping to build a biotechnology pipeline here. "It's all about creating a culture that supports small companies that are biotechnology oriented, and then drawing enough people here that they can flourish."

"Luceome is an example of what can happen when the University of Arizona's BIO5 Institute and Office of Technology Transfer, and the Arizona Center for Innovation work together and support entrepreneurial activity that stems from the University's top-notch research", stated Dr. Nina Ossanna, BIO5 business development director and AZbio vice-chair. AZbio is the state's bioindustry organisation.


Source: University of Arizona

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