Morehouse School of Medicine Researchers
Develop Drug to Protect Brain from Stroke and Neurotoxin Damage
NRG Biotechnology Project Earns Top Award at Southeast BIO Meeting
ATLANTA – When the brain is damaged – whether from trauma, stroke or neurological attack – maximizing the number of cells that survive is the single most important factor for recovery.
For nearly 15 years, researchers at the Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) have been studying a naturally occurring human protein called neuregulin-1 (NRG-1) that has shown the potential to limit inflammation in brain cells after stroke or trauma. Now, these researchers, led by Dr. Byron Ford, have developed and patented NRG-1, a protein that could offer a new level of “neuroprotection” to millions of Americans who suffer strokes, experience traumatic brain injury, or are possibly exposed to neurotoxins.
This research was recently highlighted when MSM’s NRG Biotechnology program – developed to commercialize the NRG-1 technology – was recognized as having the most competitive business plan among several competitors at the Southeast BIO Investor Forum (SEBIO). SEBIO is a regional not-for-profit that fosters the growth of the life sciences industry in the Southeastern United States.
“While we are honored by this recognition, we are more pleased that these discoveries could aid hundreds of thousands of Americans who suffer each year from stroke and brain trauma,” said Dr. Ford, a professor in the MSM Department of Neurobiology and an investigator in the Neuroscience Institute at MSM. “The additional potential to aid first responders and others who may be exposed to neurotoxins domestically and overseas also represents a tremendous opportunity.”
The NRG Biotechnology research team recently secured patent protection for its compounds and could be in a unique position to offer a new treatment option for victims whose strokes were caused by either clotting in the brain or in arteries outside the brain. Treatments are currently limited to only certain types of stroke characteristics, limiting their use to three percent of stroke victims. Immediate treatment options are also severely limited for soldiers and public health workers who may be exposed to neurotoxins, creating potential opportunities with the U.S. government.
Prior to the Southeast BIO win, MSM had already been recognized as a rising star in Georgia’s biotechnology community. The NRG Biotechnology program benefited from the Georgia Research Alliance’s VentureLab initiative, which helps commercialize university research results.
“We estimate the total domestic market opportunity is in excess of $400 million in the neurotoxin space and more than $3 billion for stroke treatment,” said Jim Heitner, a member of the team and CEO of Ripple Management, a technology commercialization company and consultant to MSM. “MSM’s partnerships with the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and other key stakeholders give us great confidence for the potential to advance NRG-1.”
GRA VentureLab funds can be used to pursue Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, commercialization planning and regulatory studies that might not be covered by traditional federal research grants. The NRG-1 team is seeking additional funding for its next phases of development. Phase I clinical trials could begin as early as 2013.
Other key advisors to the NRG Biotechnology project include Rob Derricotte, M.B.A., President of the Georgia Biosciences Commercialization Center; Gregory Ford, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Morehouse College; and business and technical advisor James Lillard, Ph.D., M.B.A., Assistant Dean for Research Affairs at the Morehouse School of Medicine. The combined NRG Biotechnology team has more than 20 drug products, 70 license deals in place, more than 100 publications, and substantial startup experience in life sciences.
About Morehouse School of Medicine
Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) recruits and trains minority and other students as physicians, biomedical scientists and public health professionals committed to improving the health and well-being of communities. MSM is a member of the largest consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the world – the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC). For more information about Morehouse School of Medicine, visit us online at www.msm.edu.