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Pharma Company Licenses Protein Delivery Hydrogel

Gel sample


11 Feb. 2022. A drug maker acquired commercialization rights to an injectable hydrogel developed at a university lab that delivers proteins to repair diseased tissue. Alkem Laboratories Ltd. in Mumbai, India is licensing the hydrogel technology created in the lab of David Mooney, professor of biomedical engineering and a researcher at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

Mooney and colleagues study cell and molecular biology with materials science, to better understand therapeutic signals that can be transmitted through bio-based materials. Among the areas investigated in the lab is tissue engineering, particularly repair or regeneration of tissue damaged by disease or trauma. In some cases, regenerating or repairing damaged tissue is difficult with systemic treatments, such pills, capsules, or injections, where high doses could harm the patient. Thus, direct and sustained delivery of a treatment to affected sites is preferred.

One of the materials studied in Mooney’s lab is hydrogels, water-based gels structured with biocompatible polymers. In this case, hydrogels provide enough of a framework to deliver therapeutic molecules, yet can still be injected with a conventional syringe. “Scientists can point to many promising treatments for diseases and injuries that have never made it to the clinic,” says Mooney in a university statement, “not because they don’t work, but because delivering them via a classic injection or pill wasn’t possible.”

Provide safe doses of protein therapies

In Sept. 2019, researchers in Mooney’s lab published results of study of muscle and nerve regeneration with lab mice and rabbits, using a hydrogel with alginate, a natural material derived from seaweed and used as a food thickener. The hydrogel delivered concentrations of therapeutic proteins — vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF, and insulin-like growth factor-1 or IGF-1 — injected under the skin. In mice, the protein-laden hydrogel helped repair and improve functioning of sciatic nerves, and in rabbits the treatment helped speed healing of transplanted facial muscles.

Alkem Laboratories produces generic and specialty pharmaceuticals sold in India and worldwide. The company’s products include treatments for skin diseases, complications from diabetes, and nerve disorders. In this deal, Alkem is licensing the Mooney lab’s hydrogel technology with a chemical framework for delivering therapeutic proteins, such as VEGF or IGF-1 growth factors. The hydrogel is expected to provide safe doses of protein therapies for sustained release to treat conditions such as nerve damage and foot ulcers resulting from diabetes, and vascular disorders such as peripheral artery disease. The agreement gives Alkem Labs commercialization rights for the hydrogel in India and the U.S.; financial terms were not disclosed.

“This technology’s novel, regenerative medicine approach,” notes Alkem Labs president Akhilesh Sharma, “could help fill a therapy gap in the treatment of multiple causes of ischemic tissue injuries, with the potential to avoid several thousands of foot deformities and amputations and provide relief from other ischemic conditions.”

This deal is the second licensing agreement from Wyss Institute revealed this week, and reported by Science & Enterprise. On Tuesday, the institute announced a deal with a start-up company Trestle Therapeutics for rights to a stem cell and three-dimensional printing process to produce tissue needed by people with kidney failure. Also, in July 2021, a Florida company gained rights to to develop dental sutures and membranes from an alginate adhesive gel developed in Mooney’s lab.

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