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Allied-Bristol Licenses Chinese Root Extract Technology

Malcolm Whitman, Tracy Keller, and Ralph Mazitschek

Malcolm Whitman and Tracy Keller, left and center, with co-author and radiologist Ralph Mazitschek after 2012 publication on halofuginone (Angela Alberti, Harvard Medical School)

22 June 2015.  A joint venture of drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb and science commercialization company Allied Minds is licensing research at Harvard University on the actions of a Chinese root extract with therapeutic potential against fibrosis, inflammation, and autoimmune disorders. Financial aspects of the agreement between Harvard and Allied-Bristol Life Sciences were not disclosed.

The deal provides Allied-Bristol access to research in the lab of developmental biologist Malcolm Whitman at Harvard’s dentistry school. Whitman and lab colleague Tracy Keller are studying halofuginone, derived from the compound febrifugine found in the roots of a Chinese hydrangea plant known as chang sham. Chinese herbalists, say the researchers, have long used medicines made from febrifugine to treat malaria, fibrosis, and inflammatory diseases.

Whitman, Keller, and associates seek to learn more about the way halofuginone works in the body. Their investigations point to halofuginone blocking a key enzyme that prevents production of certain proteins in the immune system. Those proteins promote the growth of Th17 cells, a type of immune-system T-cell that promotes inflammation, and linked to human autoimmune disorders, where the body’s immune system is tricked into attacking healthy cells and tissue rather than invading disease-causing cells.

A study published in 2012 by Whitman’s lab shows halofuginone blocks Th17 cell activity in lab mice induced with multiple sclerosis. Colleagues on the study at Harvard and affiliated hospitals are already identifying compounds from halofuginone with therapeutic potential for treating fibrosis — growth of excessive scar tissue — and autoimmune diseases.

From the agreement, Allied-Bristol Life Sciences expects to form a subsidiary company to continue drug discovery and development of these and other compounds from halofuginone at least through preclinical stages. Allied-Bristol Life Sciences is a venture of Allied Minds and Bristol-Myers Squibb that finds promising research in academic labs, and forms new enterprises to develop those discoveries from early feasibility stages to preclinical therapy candidates. This subsidiary would be the first spin-off created from the partnership.

Allied Minds, in Boston, acts as a holding company for science and technology-based start-ups in the U.S. The company forms new businesses based on research conducted in the U.S. at university and federally sponsored labs. Allied Minds then provides funding and management for the new enterprises through their initial stages. The company says it has relationships with 33 universities, and 32 labs and research centers affiliated with the U.S. defense and energy departments.

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