Repurposing Innovation for COVID-19

Can small businesses take the lead in the fight against both cancer and COVID-19?

Most people have been affected in some way by cancer. Scientists around the globe are diligently working to try and find new solutions to this disease. But what if the solution was actually found in innovating a known drug not currently effective enough for treatment regimes?

SciTech Development is a company built in response to the National Cancer Institute’s call to solve a problem with the already available oncology drug fenretinide considered ineffective in comparison to other drugs. SciTech Development is based in Michigan and previously associated with the Karmanos Cancer Institute (KCI) and Wayne State University (WSU), seeks to rapidly advance the development of therapeutic agents by pairing them with their proprietary technology.

Fenretinide is a synthetic retinoid derivative, meaning that it is made via chemical reactions and is structurally similar to Vitamin A. Synthesized for the first time in the 1960s by Johnson & Johnson as a potential treatment for acne, it was not until other retinoids were considered as cancer treatments that it was leveraged as an oncology drug. Fenretinide is effective as an oncology drug, binding to several receptors and ultimately leading to apoptosis or death of cancerous cells. However, fenretinide has very low bioavailability because it is a fairly hydrophobic drug. With the blood being a water-based fluid, this means that very little of the drug after being administered makes it into the bloodstream via oral administration. This prevents enough of the drug from getting to the cancer cells and making an impact. Many drugs like fenretinide are abandoned due to these limitations.

In response to the lack of bioavailability, the SciTech Development team decided to transform fenretinide utilizing their innovation. They have patented new technology to enhance the bioavailability of hydrophobic drugs called the SciTech Drug Delivery Vehicle (SDV). This phospholipid matrix will carry the drug into the bloodstream, increasing its bioavailability. Phospholipids are regularly occurring molecules in the human body and are essential to the composition of cell membranes in all human cells. By taking something naturally occurring in nature and adapting it to a new cause, SciTech Development has dramatically increased fenretinide’s potential for impact. Their new and improved compound ST-001 nanoFenretinide will begin clinical trials shortly, and as of December 2017, they have received FDA Orphan Drug designation.

It is not often that such innovation is influenced by a global pandemic. In light of the destruction brought about by COVID-19, the SciTech team decided to innovate again. They are leveraging the insights that their ST-001 nanoFenretinide compound is effective in defending the body from flaviviruses. SciTech Development’s initial findings indicate that their technology can also be beneficial to those fighting coronavirus. COVID-19 is devastating for many reasons, however, one of the most impactful is due to cytokine storms and inflammation. Cytokines are small proteins that are essential in cell-to-cell communication in normal immune responses. Cytokine storms occur when too many cytokines are released into the bloodstream at once. ST-001 nanoFenretinide successfully stops viral replication and decreases the impact of key symptoms that precede bad outcomes.

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Photo by CDC on Unsplash

“It’s like having the ability to take multiple shots on goal…in other words, the drug exerts its effect on multiple pathways. The more shots you can get on goal the higher the likelihood that you’ll be successful and win the game.” — Dr. Louis M. Scarmoutzos, Senior Vice-President of Operations at SciTech Development

SciTech Development is trying to secure funding for ST-001 nanoFenretinide to be tested as a potential therapeutic for COVID-19. They seek to partner with government organizations leading the search for therapeutics to launch a Phase I clinical trial. Sharing ideas alongside industry giants who are also trying to solve the same problem is not an easy endeavor. However, SciTech sees embracing an all hands on deck mentality as essential to overcoming the crisis. Recently, working with their strategic partner Catalyze Group, they have submitted a proposal to BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) for this work. The goal is to affirm that their innovation can help those with COVID-19 and encourage a conversation about the oncology-specific benefits of their compound ST-001 nanoFenretinide.

This type of innovation is groundbreaking because it is centralized around collaboration with nature. A synthesized compound impacts a variety of threats to human health due to the diligent research and creativity of this team focused on developing the necessary biotechnology to improve its delivery. Small businesses and startups maintain unique flexibility to innovate in this way because they can prioritize ideas that are beyond the strategic goals of larger organizations. This revolutionary approach to repurposing innovation will lead to essential breakthroughs for the most devastating medical trials humanity faces.

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Want to talk about biotechnology or bioeconomy innovation? Let’s connect! Working on some cool science you think is essential to the conversation? Leave me a comment below! Make sure to check out this related article:

Catalyze Group is a market leader in obtaining funding for healthcare and biomedical innovations by lowering thresholds to resources while increasing the chance for success and accelerating R&D.

Integrating Business with the Developing Bioeconomy // Making the Complex Uncomplicated

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