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Inlighta Biosciences Receives $2M NIH Grant

Photonics.com
Aug 2017
ATLANTA, Sept. 7, 2017 — Inlighta Biosciences, a life sciences startup founded by Jenny Yang, a Georgia State University Regents’ Professor of Biochemistry, has received a $2 million federal grant to develop improved magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents for the early detection of liver cancers and other cancers, such as uveal melanoma or eye cancer, that have metastasized to the liver.

Yang, who is also the director of the Center for Diagnostics and Therapeutics, is the principal investigator for the grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) via the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The research and development work will be done through a collaboration among startup company Inlighta, Georgia State and Emory University. The focus of the project is on optimizing a novel, protein-based contrast agent called ProCA32, the company's first candidate for clinical development. Next-generation agents that target cancer cells will also be developed.

The funding will support fine-tuning of in vivo imaging protocols, validating the benefit of the agent and conducting animal toxicology studies needed to support an application to the United States Food & Drug Administration for human clinical trials.

"We are very excited by receiving this Phase II STTR funding to support our investigational new drug-enabled studies," Yang said. "Our proposed studies in precision imaging address major medical gaps, including early detection of small lesions and biomarker expression, especially for high-risk patients, and monitoring the dynamic changes of biomarkers during disease progression and following therapeutic treatment. Success in our proposed studies will have immediate clinical implications in the diagnosis of liver metastasis from various cancers, primarily liver cancer, and other liver diseases' accurate staging and follow-up of high-risk patients, evaluating treatment effect and image-guided interventions.”

The design of ProCA32 allows it to bind tightly with two gadolinium ions, resulting in a 10-fold increase in relaxivity and significantly enhanced MRI image contrast compared to conventional MRI contrast agents.

Yang previously conducted preclinical studies in collaboration with clinicians and other researchers to investigate uveal cancer, which is treatable in the eye but often fatal if it metastasizes to the liver. In rodents, conventional contrast agents are unable to detect liver tumors <1 cm, while ProCA32 has detected liver tumors as small as 0.24 mm. By detecting tumors earlier, clinicians will be able to pursue better treatment options for their patients and potentially improve their odds of recovery. Yang has also found ProCA32 can be modified to detect other types of cancers, as the contrast agent may be linked with a receptor-targeting moiety so that it can bind to disease biomarkers such as CXCR4 on liver tumors, HER2 on breast tumors and collagen at liver fibrosis. Further modifications of the agents will allow for mapping of heterogeneously expressed biomarkers that are often missed by blind biopsy, enabling early detection and characterization of metastatic tumors and distinguishing among different types of liver metastases.

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