Beyond Biotech podcast 4: CorePath, Rensselaer, Versameb

July 8, 2022 - 6 minutes
Photo/Labiotech

This week’s guests are: Helen Zha, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Versameb CEO Klaas Zuideveld; and Aamir Ehsan, CEO and medical director of CorePath and Celina Villa, medical director of Biopharma Division.

Versameb gives presentation during World Continence Week 

Versameb AG, which focuses on discovering and developing innovative RNA-based drugs, gave a presentation recently at a World Continence Week (WCW) event recently. 

CEO Klaas Zuideveld and clinical advisor Roger Dmochowski spoke about Versameb’s lead therapeutic candidate, VMB-100, for the treatment of stress urinary incontinence (SUI).

WCW is an annual initiative endorsed by the European Association of Urology (EAU) and the International Continence Society (ICS) set up by the World Federation of Incontinence and Pelvic Problems (WFIPP). 

WCW raises awareness of bladder and bowel issues, chronic pelvic pain and other debilitating conditions which impact the lives of millions of patients worldwide.

During WCW, Versameb presented its VERSagile mRNA technology platform VMB-100, which the company said . VMB-100 has shown promising pre-clinical data, with muscle tissue regeneration and function restoration of the urinary sphincter. 

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Approximately 30% of adult women worldwide suffer from SUI. There is currently no drug treatment approved that restores function and has a long-term effect. Versameb said VERSagile mRNA technology is well suited for the regeneration of muscle tissue and VMB-100 aims to make a difference in this hard-to-treat disease.

Zuideveld said: “World Continence Week raises awareness around the taboo subject of continence related issues. Women are desperately seeking options that have low risk and a long-term lasting effect in improvement or resolution of SUI. 

“Our lead therapeutic candidate is demonstrating a significant acceleration of functional recovery and tissue regeneration to address the high unmet medical need and change the lives of patients suffering from SUI.”

Rensselaer researchers make face masks to fight viruses

Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, have developed N95 surgical face masks that are not just barriers to germs, but can neutralize them.

The team said the antiviral, antibacterial masks can be worn for longer, creating less waste as the masks do not need to be replaced as frequently.

Helen Zha, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering and a member of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer (CBIS), collaborated with Edmund Palermo, associate professor of materials science and engineering and a member of the Center for Materials, Devices, and Integrated systems (cMDIS) at Rensselaer on the project. 

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“This was a multifaceted materials engineering challenge with a great, diverse team of collaborators,” Palermo said. 

“We think the work is a first step toward longer-lasting, self-sterilizing personal protective equipment, such as the N95 respirator. It may help reduce transmission of airborne pathogens in general.”

UV grafting

In research recently published in Applied ACS Materials and Interfaces, the team successfully grafted broad-spectrum antimicrobial polymers onto the polypropylene filters used in N95 face masks. 

“The active filtration layers in N95 masks are very sensitive to chemical modification,” Zha said. 

“It can make them perform worse in terms of filtration, so they essentially no longer perform like N95s. They’re made out of polypropylene, which is difficult to chemically modify. Another challenge is that you don’t want to disrupt the very fine network of fibers in these masks, which might make them more difficult to breathe through.”

Zha, Palermo, other researchers from Rensselaer, Michigan Technological Institute, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, attached antimicrobial quaternary ammonium polymers to the fiber surfaces of nonwoven polypropylene fabrics using ultraviolet (UV)-initiated grafting. 

“The process that we developed uses a really simple chemistry to create this non-leaching polymer coating that can kill viruses and bacteria by essentially breaking open their outer layer,” said Zha. “It’s very straightforward and a potentially scalable method.” 

The team used only UV light and acetone in their process. 

Also, the process can be applied to existing polypropylene filters, rather than having to make new ones.  

The researchers said there was a decrease in filtration efficiency when the process was applied directly to the filtration layer of N95 masks, but the user could wear an unaltered N95 mask along with another polypropylene layer with the antimicrobial polymer on top.

CorePath and Cizzle partner on early-stage lung cancer test

U.S. company CorePath Laboratories is partnering with U.K. diagnostics firm Cizzle Biotechnology on an early-stage lung cancer test for the U.S.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., making up almost 25% of all cancer deaths. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

The American Cancer Society’s estimates for lung cancer in the U.S. for 2022 are about 236,740 new cases (117,910 in men and 118,830 in women) and approximately 130,180 deaths (68,820 in men and 61,360 in women) every year.

Currently, there are no simple, specific blood tests for the early detection of lung cancer, which is especially important as targeted interventions can improve access to cancer care and save lives. 

In a 2018 paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Cheung et al. estimated about 8 million Americans qualify as high risk for lung cancer and are recommended to receive annual screening with low-dose CT scans. The paper states if half of these high-risk people were screened, more than 12,000 lung cancer deaths could be prevented.

Pathology services

Texas-headquartered CorePath provides a range of oncology pathology services to healthcare providers in the U.S. and internationally.  

Its CEO and medical director, Aamir Ehsan, said: “As a board-certified hematopathologist and molecular geneticist; diagnosing cancer is hurting especially when cancer has already metastasized in patients. While efforts are under way to find actional genetic mutations to target treatment and improve survival; early detection and intervention are key to patients’ long-term survival and cure.”

Ehsan said the agreement with Cizzle Biotechnology is an opportunity to provide early and cost-effective lung cancer detection via a simple and quick blood test, “which will result in significant cost savings downstream, avoiding expensive treatment, hospital admissions and ultimately saving lives.”

Allan Syms, executive chairman of Cizzle Biotechnology, added that, for many, detection of lung cancer only happens when it has become symptomatic and is therefore more advanced, meaning five-year survival rates are poor. 

“The company’s CIZ1B biomarker to detect early-stage lung cancer could represent a major breakthrough and we now have the opportunity to bring the benefits of this test to such an important market,” Syms said. “We are delighted to be partnering with CorePath Laboratories who bring the expert knowledge and market reach to help develop our biomarker into a certified test that can be made available to patients and healthcare providers throughout the U.S.”

Cizzle Biotechnology, a spin-out from the University of York in the U.K., is developing this early detection blood test based on the ability to detect the stable plasma biomarker CIZ1B, which is a variant of CIZ1. CIZ1 is a naturally-occurring cell nuclear protein involved in DNA replication, and the targeted CIZ1B variant is highly correlated with early-stage lung cancer.

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