News Column


August 12, 2014

By Kevin Robinson-Avila, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

Aug. 12--Astartup company commercializing a breakthrough cancer-treatment technology from the University of New Mexico and Sandia National Laboratories has been acquired for $27 million.

Oncothyreon Inc., a publicly traded biotechnology company from Seattle, announced Monday that it issued about 9.3 million shares of its stock to acquire Alpine Biosciences, an Albuquerque company that formed in 2012 to commercialize Sandia and UNM's "protocell" technology.

"Alpine Biosciences is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Oncothyreon," Alpine Chairman and co-founder Dr. Mitchell H. Gold told the Journal . "The shares issued are valued at about $27 million."

Lisa Kuuttila, president and CEO of UNM's Science and Technology Corp., the university's tech transfer office, said the acquisition will help accelerate the development and commercialization of the protocell technology, which jointly was created by UNM and Sandia.

The technology uses man-made nanoparticles to inject huge doses of cancer-killing drugs directly into the heart of tumors without harming healthy tissue.

"We believe that this combination of talent and resources will accelerate the clinical development of the protocell technology and will lead to better therapies for currently intractable diseases," Kuuttila said. "It is incredibly important for health care."

Oncothyreon, which is developing a slate of its own cancer therapies, said the protocell technology will enhance its product lineup.

"We believe the acquisition of Alpine and its protocell technology brings to Oncothyreon a delivery platform with the potential to revolutionize multiple therapeutic fields," said Oncothyreon President and CEO Robert Kirkman in a statement.

The protocell technology has been developed over the last four years by a joint team of UNM and Sandia scientists headed by Sandia researcher and UNM professor Jeff Brinker and Dr. Cheryl Willman, UNM's Cancer Center director.

The protocell consists of porous nanoparticles that are covered with a protective coating similar to the membranes that surround live cells, plus a protein that allows them to bind specifically with cancer cells.

Researchers load the nanoparticles with cancer-killing drugs and inject them into the bloodstream, where they then drift harmlessly until binding with cancer cells to release their cargo.

In lab studies, the nanoparticles have proven far more robust than similar technology created at other research institutions, making them less likely to break down in the bloodstream and cause damage to healthy tissue.

Moreover, the nanoparticle pores are large enough to fill them with a variety of drugs at high concentrations, allowing doctors to deliver tailor-made drug cocktails that target specific cancers with great potency.

As of last year, UNM had received $2.25 million from the National Cancer Institute and $1.5 million from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to develop the protocells.

Alpine Biotechnology took an option to license the technology last year. At the time, Gold -- a nationally recognized pioneer in emerging cancer-fighting therapies -- said the protocell technology could help revolutionize the battle against cancer.

"This is still early technology, but it's so unique in its capabilities that I believe it will be a game changer for the entire field of oncology," Gold told the Journal in December.

Oncothyreon's backing will help accelerate the technology's path to market, Gold said.

For now, Alpine will maintain a local office at UNM's Science and Technology Park. The local Sandia and UNM scientific team is expected to continue working with the company.


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Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

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