Bat flower research attracts biomedical investor

Posted: Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Also called the devil flower for its black blossoms and odd shape, the bat flower plant is native to Malaysia. <i>Copyright 2012 G. Patterson.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.</i>clear graphic
Also called the devil flower for its black blossoms and odd shape, the bat flower plant is native to Malaysia. Copyright 2012 G. Patterson. All rights reserved. Used with permission. 

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Contact: Elizabeth Allen, 210-450-2020

SAN ANTONIO (Oct. 31, 2012) — Promising new potential anti-cancer agents isolated at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio have attracted the attention — and investment — of Dallas-based investment fund Remeditex Ventures, LLC.

Remeditex recently inked a deal through South Texas Technology Management, a regional technology transfer office, to fund research on compounds derived from those found in the bat flower plant, or Tacca chantrieri, also called the devil flower. The sponsored research agreement supports a critical point in the new drug’s development that falls between the early discovery stage and the process of taking it to clinical trials, said Claire Aldridge, Ph.D., vice president of venture development at Remeditex.

If the initial testing is successful, Remeditex has the option to license the technology either by forming a new company or working with an existing company, said STTM Executive Director Arjun Sanga, J.D., assistant vice president for technology transfer at the UT Health Science Center.

Overcoming resistance
Susan Mooberry, Ph.D., co-leader of the Experimental Development Therapeutics Program at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center and a professor of pharmacology in the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center, has been working with substances in the bat plant called taccalonolides that have the potential of Taxol. Taxol is an effective chemotherapy drug, but patients eventually develop problems with resistance over time and it loses effectiveness. An advantage of the taccalonolides is that they can overcome common resistance mechanisms.

Microtubules are structures in the cells that act as conveyer belts. They help maintain cell shape and help guide chromosomes in cell division to ensure that every new cell, including every new cancer cell, gets a full complement of genetic material. Microtubules also move cargo around the cell, including the molecules that act as the accelerator, driving cancer cell metabolism and proliferation. When microtubules are stabilized — essentially held still so they can’t do their jobs — this disrupts numerous cellular processes, and the cell can die.
Susan Mooberry, Ph.D., has been working with substances in the bat plant called taccalonolides that may be more effective over time than the drug Taxol in fighting cancer. clear graphic
Susan Mooberry, Ph.D., has been working with substances in the bat plant called taccalonolides that may be more effective over time than the drug Taxol in fighting cancer.  

 

Nontoxic to healthy cells
The taccalonolides stabilize microtubules in cancer cells, Dr. Mooberry said. At concentrations that kill cancer cells, they are not toxic to normal cells. “We’ve run normal prostate cells and normal breast cells through these tests, and they don’t die. The taccalonolides selectively kill cancer cells,” she said.

Research will determine toxicity and effectiveness
Last year Dr. Mooberry’s team identified new taccalonolides, never before identified and several of these almost a thousand times more potent than the most common taccalonolides. These new compounds revealed for the first time how the taccalonolides interact with microtubules.

But as with all new drugs, other questions must be answered, Dr. Aldridge said. For instance, researchers would need to show that a promising new medicine is effective in preclinical tumor models and is metabolized slowly enough in the body to be effective. They must see if it has toxicity issues.

“Answering these questions is crucial to getting an effective application in front of the FDA in order to move forward with a clinical trial,” Dr. Aldridge said. “We look for promising technologies that with some investment we could take to the ‘go or no go’ decision fairly quickly, and we see great promise in the taccalonolides.”

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The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.

South Texas Technology Management (STTM) is The University of Texas technology transfer office managed by the Health Science Center. STTM also serves three other institutions in South Texas. STTM provides leadership in promoting innovation and technology transfer through proactive management of intellectual property, technology development and commercialization to support the missions of member institutions, to advance regional economic development and to benefit the public. Please refer to www.utsttm.org to learn more about STTM or other innovative technologies.



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