Biotech company receives $3 million grant

Adedamola Agboola

TheraSource, a Manhasset based biotech company spun off from Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute in 2004, will tackle radiation poisoning thanks to a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The startup received a $3 million three-year Small Business Innovation grant, the company announced last Thursday.

The grant will support the support the development of an innovative treatment to alleviate health damage caused by unintentional radiation exposure, officials said.

The grant will specifically go towards Ping Wang’s study and development of human ghrelin as an innovative treatment to alleviate health damage caused by unintentional radiation exposure.

Wang, the 57 year old founder of TheraSource and chief scientific officer at Feinstein Institute, discovered that the administration of human ghrelin, a 28-amino acid peptide hormone, significantly increased the survival rate and reduced the weight loss of animal models exposed to radiation.

“Human ghrelin has been investigated in clinical trials of other indications,” Wang said. “With our new findings, we will soon be able to file an Investigational New Drug application to U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

Human ghrelin, which is mainly produced in the stomach, has been found to control physiological activities from food intake and energy metabolism to gut-integrity and cell death.

Wang, a Village of Roslyn resident who immigrated from China in 1987 said the company is in a unique position.

“Radiation exposure is quite different because only the government is interested in studying something like this,” Wang said. “And the drug will be developed mainly for emergency like the nuclear power disaster in Japan or a dirty bomb in the middle of Manhattan which will cause a lot of damage.”

Wang said when the drugs are fully developed, tested and commercialized, the government will stockpile and be able to issue them when needed.

“We are still relatively in the early stages,” Wang said. “We still have to do to the FDA to file and ‘Investigational New Drug’ application to conduct clinical trials.”

Wang said because of the uniqueness of the drug, the company will perform the trials on radiation exposed animals.

“We are going to use monkeys and that can take within five years to further develop and get approval,” Wang said. “At the moment, we are only targeting the U.S. government as our only customer.”

The company referenced the radioactive disasters in Chernobyl, Ukraine and Japan as well as the existential threat of “international terrorism” and “geopolitical instability,” which poses “growing threat of radiation exposure through radioactive devices and nuclear weapons.

“Nonetheless, no treatment has been approved to counter the often fatal gastrointestinal disease caused by higher doses of radiation.  Thus, there is an urgent, un-met medical need for an effective therapy to treat victims of severe acute radiation injury,” the company said in a statement.

Wang’s team, which consulted with researchers from Stony Brook University in the development of business and technology strategy, will collaborate with the University of Maryland to conduct some studies under the SBIR grant.

Diane Fabel, director of operations at the Center for Biotechnology and a lead administrator of the Long Island Bioscience Hub, which recently welcomed the Feinstein Institute as its fourth member organization, said the Center for Biotechnology is “proud to have played an integral role in helping TheraSource advance their business and technology strategy.”

Wang said when he launched TheraSource 10 years ago, he and his partners had to go out and raise $100,000.

“Most large research center will file patents for their members and go different ways. They [researchers] then license the technology to someone else,” Wang said. “The second way is for the institution to encourage the researchers to develop the drugs themselves.”

And that was what the Feinstein Institute did.

When Wang and his partners raise the early stage capital, they sold a part of the company who the institute.

“That’s why we’re called a spin off of the institute,” Wang said.

“One of our missions at the Feinstein Institute is to transition our lab discoveries onto the path of commercialization,” said Kevin Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute. “TheraSource has received investments to fund its various projects and is seeking strategic partnerships towards the goal of clinical development and commercialization. TheraSource is an example of how we have successfully done this.”

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