"OUR APPROACH to treating anthrax infection is unique in that we target the infected patient’s response by reducing the systemic organ inflammation caused by intoxication," said ProThera Biologics' Dr. Yow-Pin Lim.
The path from the bench in an academic research laboratory at Rhode Island Hospital to partnership with a biopharm firm in the production of therapeutic agent to protect against the threat of anthrax contamination has been a long, arduous process, according to Dr. Yow-Pin Lim, president of ProThera Biologics. Perseverance is the key.
It is Lim’s long-term goal to outfit a manufacturing facility and produce his firm’s protein therapeutics here in Rhode Island, and Lim says ProThera is committed to economic development in Rhode Island and building a relationship with the Knowledge District.
PBN: What are the latest developments in ProThera Biologics' development of anthrax intoxication treatment research that was funded by the National Institutes of Health?
LIM: We have made excellent progress on the biodefense grant project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, and we’re currently in the last phase of the project. We’ve had to scale up to make sure we have enough material for final proof of efficacy, and right now we’re demonstrating the real, protective effects of our therapeutic agent in two large animal species to satisfy the “two animal rule” for biodefense-related applications. It’s a really exciting time.
Looking ahead, we’ve also established a partnership with a large biopharm company, which will provide us with the necessary supply of our therapeutic proteins to further our research.
PBN: Is it expected that the ProThera Biologics' therapies to treat anthrax infection will be included in the U.S. biodefense stockpile?
LIM: Our approach to treating anthrax infection is unique in that we target the infected patient’s response by reducing the systemic organ inflammation caused by intoxication. This approach is a paradigm shift in the treatment of bacterial sepsis in general – and anthrax in particular – and has the potential for broad application to additional bioterror agents like other bacterial toxins or viruses, as well as pandemic threats from emerging pathogens.
Right now, the government has come to understand that the current “one bug, one drug” approach to the biodefense stockpile program is not sustainable. The focus has recently shifted from vaccines and antiserums that target specific, single agents to more universal defenses that address multiple pathogens. We believe that ProThera’s therapeutic agent can serve well as a broad-spectrum biodefense countermeasure in the stockpile program.
PBN: ProThera Biologics was a 2010 winner of the Business Plan competition; it has received Slater Fund investment as well as a R.I. Science and Technology Advisory Council award. Do you see the company as an example of how a Brown scientist translates research into a viable commercial enterprise?
LIM: Yes! We discovered this technology in an academic lab at Rhode Island Hospital, and we were only able to further develop and translate it into a viable product with support from state and federal programs, including investment by Slater, along with STAC and SBIR grants. From the beginning, we’ve invested a great deal of effort to make our scientific foundation – ProThera’s actual technology breakthrough – as strong as possible. We know that this focus on science is critical to success and should always be the core of our business.
I would encourage scientists to keep the focus on their technology as they work to translate their laboratory findings into a real product. We’ve been prepared for a long, arduous process right from the start, and I’m glad we were. Perseverance is key, especially in the biosciences.
PBN: How many people are currently employed at ProThera Biologics and what kinds of expansion do you anticipate in the next two years?
LIM: We are still a small company with less than 10 employees, but we anticipate expanding in the near future as we continue to develop new projects, collaborations and partnerships. We’re currently expanding our lab facility to include pilot manufacturing capabilities, and anticipate adding more scientists to our team. It is our long-term goal to outfit a manufacturing facility and produce our protein therapeutics here in Rhode Island. Building a successful drug discovery venture is not quick, but it’s worth the wait.
PBN: How does your company see its relationship to the Knowledge District in Providence and the growing research enterprise located there?
LIM: ProThera started in an academic lab in the Knowledge District, and we interact and collaborate extensively with researchers in the institutions there. We want to continue to strengthen our relationships within the research community both here in Providence and throughout the state. We’re committed to the economic development of Rhode Island; a vibrant research enterprise here will help companies like ours grow.