In the quest to find alternative treatments for widespread conditions, the area of phytochemicals has drawn more than just a passing glance. DiscoveryBioMed, Inc. (DBM), a life sciences and biotechnology company based in Birmingham, AL, was recently awarded a $200,000 Phase 1 Small Business Innovations Research (SBIR) catalyst grant under the recovery act by the NIH to continue research into the discovery and development of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals to address complications associated with nasal and pulmonary inflammation, dermatitis and kidney disorders with an inflammatory component.
DBM focuses on finding therapeutic compounds for a variety of human diseases using physiologically relevant cell culture models, preferably derived from normal and diseased adult human cells and tissues. The company specializes in forging commercial partnerships that enhance the value of SBIR grant applications from the NIH. The company also acts as a “bridge” between academic and smaller biotech entities and large pharmaceutical entities. For the purposes of this grant, the company will work with Irvine, CA-based ChromaDex Corp., who will be providing a library of natural products and phytochemicals to screen in their human cell platform.
ChromaDex specializes in the development of Phytochemical and Botanical Reference Standards and the creation of associated intellectual property. ChromaDex is also committed to sustainable “Green chemistry” and provides the dietary supplement, food, beverage, nutraceutical and cosmetic industries with the novel ingredients, analytical tools and services to meet product regulatory, quality, efficacy and safety standards.
“This program is empowered by multiple human cell platforms derived from different tissues commonly afflicted by inflammatory conditions and by access to botanically-derived small molecule phytochemicals and/or extracts from our newly cemented partnership with ChromaDex,” said Erik Schwiebert, PhD, chief executive officer of DBM.
Dr. Schwiebert went on to explain that DBM’s grant application evolved out of several pilot human cell-based drug discovery programs in process when the small business-specific American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) grant mechanisms were announced. “At the same time, DBM and ChromaDex were discussing multiple points of interaction for drug discovery for chronic human diseases of mutual interest,” he said.
DBM designs targeted and phenotypic high-throughput molecular screening programs where the human cell platform accelerates drug discovery and currently has programs in chronic lung diseases, obesity and diabetes, oncology, polycystic kidney disease, osteoporosis, hepatitis and inflammation. DBM has designed its grant-funded program to discover broad spectrum anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. “Other proprietary methods build biostatistical power into the program, further accelerating, streamlining and rationalizing the program,” Dr. Schwiebert explained.
At the same time, ChromaDex will add value to its phytochemical small molecules and extracts by having DBM find a connection or value for a particular product in fighting or curtailing a particular disease.
The goals of the program funded by the Recovery Act SBIR Catalyst award will be to utilize ChromaDex phytochemical small molecules and extracts to discover and validate broad spectrum anti-inflammatory candidate substances for the over-the-counter (OTC) and nutraceuticals space.
“More often than not,” commented Dr. Schwiebert, “drug discovery programs begin with a primary drug screening experiment on a biochemical target included in a solution within tiny wells of a microtiter plate where the target has been removed from its native environment within a human cell. DBM believes that this leads to high attrition rate for the hit compounds found. DBM prefers to screen against these targets as well as against specific phenotypes or functions within human cell systems relevant to the biology of that cell and of the disease of interest. Said differently, the end drug will be given to a human patient; why not screen the candidate drugs on a human cell platform relevant to the biology and the disease in the primary experiment.”
Using this approach, DBM’s hit compounds are subject to much lesser attrition going forward. “These methods accelerate drug discovery and accelerate translation into a therapeutic drug, driven by a therapeutics development spinout company from DBM and/or ChromaDex and/or an out-license with a suitable and interested pharma entity,” said Dr. Schwiebert.
The grant award was activated on April 1, 2010 and at present DBM has “initiated the optimized screening program using a human nasal epithelial cell line that has heightened inflammatory phenotype.”
“We already have a panel of hit compound classes that we are evaluating as we continue phytochemical screening,” Dr. Schwiebert said. “We are validating these hits on human skin and kidney cell systems as potential broad spectrum anti-inflammatory compounds. So, the first fruits are already being realized.”
Looking ahead, DBM plans to apply for Phase 2 SBIR funding in late summer of 2010, with the hope of deepening the work and beginning to develop its newly found candidate drugs for the common cold, rhinitis/sinusitis, chronic lung diseases (asthma, COPD, CF), dermatitis, and kidney diseases with an inflammatory component.