What is PHF Research Park?
The PHF Research Park is a 27-acre, seven-building, 700,000 square-foot complex that supports biomedical technology. The Research Park is located in close proximity to the Oklahoma Health Center.
At the Research Park, Presbyterian Health Foundation’s mission is to provide biotech companies with Class A wet laboratory space and office space at competitive lease rates. Currently, there are 36 science based companies housed at the complex including awwro.
Beating the bad bugs: Oklahoma researcher receives grant for work on new antibiotic
By April Wilkerson
OKLAHOMA CITY – In the last 10 years, antibiotic-resistant infections have risen around the world, creating a costly and serious medical challenge.
An Oklahoma researcher has been working on a brand-new antibiotic to fight a few of the particularly resistant bacteria, and her efforts have received a significant boost through a $1.8 million grant from Oklahoma’s Economic Development Generating Excellence program. Dr. Anne Pereira is scientific founder of Biolytx Pharmaceuticals Corp., a six-year-old Oklahoma City biotech company whose research stands to have a global reach. Her work began 25 years ago while she was a postdoctoral student at Emory University, and it continues today as a professor and associate dean for research and paid surveys in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Pereira’s “new drugs for bad bugs” remain promising, she said, and the EDGE money will help Biolytx prepare an Investigational New Drug claim for the Food and Drug Administration, a significant step in bringing a new drug to market. The key to battling drug-resistant bacteria is to create a new therapeutic that they haven’t encountered before.
“Once bacteria have seen something, it’s very easy to develop resistance,” Pereira said. “If you can find a brand-new drug, then bacteria are seeing it for the first time, and the chances for building resistance become less rapid.”
Pereira is targeting a tough type of bacteria called Gram negative. Included in that type are two bacteria of particular focus: Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii. The first can cause a lung infection, especially ventilator-associated pneumonia, a condition that can devastate a hospitalized patient. The other bacterium is largely found in wounded soldiers returning from Iraq, Pereira said. The bacteria live in the sand and can travel with soldiers who are transported to the hospital.
“This hasn’t really been a problem until the last 10 years,” she said. “The resistance profiles of it have escalated. The bug would come back with the returning soldier, perhaps to a hospital in Germany. When they come to the U.S., the bug comes with them.”
If the soldier’s wound gets infected, the bacterium can attack the bone and skin, she said, and it is very difficult to treat. A drug from the 1960s has been resurrected because bacteria is not resistant to it. However, it is incredibly toxic, she said.
After focusing her therapeutic on those two bacteria, Pereira plans to apply it to E. coli and salmonella organisms.
Pereira’s work on a new drug is distinctive because it stems from a naturally occurring protein. The concept originated with her mentor at Emory, and Pereira carried it on. The idea centers on looking at how the body is able to defend itself against bacterial infections, then finding natural antibiotics that exist in humans. While still at Emory, Pereira and the team discovered the protein CAP37, which has proved to be active against Gram-negative bacteria. Specifically, she is using a small segment of that protein, called a peptide, that targets bacteria without bringing along extraneous material from the rest of the protein.
She also earned a patent for the protein in 1989, an essential step in finding a novel treatment.
But the scientific thought of the time wasn’t on Pereira’s side. People didn’t consider peptides a therapeutic and thought that something so small would simply be “chewed up and spit out” by the body before it had time to work. However, continued research validated the peptide, she said, and her work took off.
The National Institutes of Health also became increasingly interested in antibiotic resistance, and in 2007, Pereira received a substantial NIH grant to take her work through the pre-clinical stage. The timing of her EDGE grant was crucial, she said, because it is picking up where the NIH money ran out.
“We found ourselves in a dreadful wedge between NIH funding and clinical work where we still had to run critical studies that the FDA requires,” she said. “That’s why the EDGE money was so important.”
The EDGE grant will help Biolytx carry out a multitude of studies required for filing an Investigational New Drug claim, such as toxicology, pharmacology, ensuring the drug is safe and stable, and determining how it will be delivered to a human. All of those studies will be performed by contract organizations and biotech companies in Oklahoma, Pereira said, creating additional income and jobs.
The grant also will help Pereira with the business side of Biolytx. A comprehensive review of the intellectual property is important, particularly setting a strategy for submitting subsequent patents and keeping the patent protection going. The intellectual property is licensed through the University of Oklahoma. A subcontract for some of the work also is going to OU’s College of Pharmacy, where extra senior-level scientists will be hired soon to perform the studies.
Dr. Paul Risser, executive director of the EDGE Fund Policy Board, said EDGE is pleased to help a company navigate the complex process of taking a therapeutic from the lab to the market. Gaps in funding can sideline a company, and in this case, EDGE filled such a hole.
“We saw the significance of what she is doing and recognized that EDGE funding at this time would be very helpful to her,” Risser said. “The three projects we funded for this third round were superb; so were the others that we couldn’t fund. The proposals we receive keep getting better and better.”
Pereira said pursuing a new drug requires persistence and incremental steps, but she feels like she’s on a good track.
“Each experiment or each milestone seems like a major achievement,” she said. “You celebrate each of those and move on to the next. It’s like anything you have a passion for. You also have to know when to give up on it. But right now, it’s still too good. We have a lot going in a positive fashion.”
Located at the PHF Research Park
800 Research Parkway, Suite 334
Oklahoma City, OK 73104