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Calico Licenses Neurodegenerative Disease Compounds

Neuron in tissue culture

Neuron in tissue culture (EnCor Biotechnology Inc./Wikimedia Commons)

11 September 2014. California Life Company, better known as Calico, is licensing for development compounds shown to protect nerve cells in lab animals against degeneration and injury. Financial terms of the deal between Southwestern Medical Center and 2M Company in Dallas, with Calico, a one-year old company backed by Google, were not disclosed.

A paper on molecular targets for the compounds, known as P7C3, conducted by researchers at Southwestern Medical Center, part of the University of Texas system, and University of Iowa appears in today’s issue of the journal Cell (paid subscription required). A separate paper by the Iowa researchers testing P7C3 compounds as protection against traumatic brain injury was also published today.

P7C3 compounds are small-molecule chemicals that in previous studies were shown to protect and help grow nerve cells or neurons in the hippocampus part of the brain that affects short and long-term memory. Research over the past 7 years by Southwestern’s Steven McKnight, Joseph Ready, and Andrew Pieper (now at Iowa) discovered these capabilities in P7C3 compounds, and demonstrated their properties with neurons in lab animals. Among their findings are the ability of these compounds to protect against age-related nerve cell death, which suggests P7C3 compounds are potential candidates against neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, depression, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

In 2010, Southwestern licensed early development of P7C3 compounds to Claria Bioscience, an affiliate of 2M Company, that provides funding and management to help life science entrepreneurs get started. Under the new agreement, Calico receives an exclusive license to further develop and commercialize P7C3 compounds, in return for unspecified upfront, milestone, and royalty payments. Calico is led by Arthur Levinson, former CEO of Genentech, now a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Roche.

In the Cell paper, the authors further explain the way P7C3 compounds work in the brain. The researchers found the chemicals in P7C3 activate nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase or NAMPT enzymes in lab mice. These enzymes in turn convert nicotinamides into energy molecules known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotides or NADs, another enzyme already known to protect axons, the extended fibers in nerve cells, from degeneration.

In a separate paper published today in the journal Cell Reports, Pieper and colleagues at Iowa show that P7C3 compounds protect against traumatic brain injury in lab mice subjected to simulated explosions like those experienced by military service members, many of whom return with traumatic brain injuries. The researchers found P7C3 compounds blocked the degeneration of axons, even when given to mice 24 to 36 hours after the initial injury occurred.

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