Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
Cancer Research Leads to Commercial Venture for School of Pharmacy
AMARILLO -- Cancer biology research is just one of many areas of interest for investigators at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Now, thanks to some outside help, it is the first to spin off a commercial venture for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s School of Pharmacy, resulting in Receptor Logic Ltd. This biotech company, based in Amarillo, is focused on developing breakthrough technology to customize cancer and infectious disease treatments for individual patients.
The research behind Receptor Logic is being directed by Jon Weidanz, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences who came to the Health Sciences Center’s School of Pharmacy in 2000. Vaughan Wittman, a School of Pharmacy graduate student, also is a chief scientist for the company.
Receptor Logic and Weidanz are employing an integrated diagnostic and therapeutic approach to produce antibodies known as T-cell receptor mimics. According to Weidanz, these antibodies can be directed at specific targets displayed on the surface of the cancer cell, which means during treatment, healthy cells located adjacent to the diseased cells can be left intact. Receptor Logic dubbed these antibodies “TCR mimics” because they recognize targets identical to those recognized by T-cell receptors.
“TCR mimics give us an invaluable tool when it comes to identifying or validating tumor targets that are present on the cancer cell surface,” Weidanz explains. “These tumor targets, which are proteins referred to as antigens, are derived from inside the malignant cells and are processed into small fragments for insertion into a molecule known as the HLA. The peptide-loaded HLA molecule then traffics and anchors itself to the cell’s cytoplasmic membrane for presentation to the TCR on T-lymphocytes for activation and destruction of the tumor cell.”
Weidanz says many vaccine trials in which investigators are attempting to elicit anti-tumor T-cell responses to vaccinate cancer patients are underway.
“The goal of our research is to develop a technology platform that generates a panel of antibodies that can visualize tumor-associated peptide antigen presented by HLA complexes on the surface of tumor cells.”
Weidanz says the company has been able to demonstrate “proof of concept” by generating TCR mimic antibodies and binding them to target cells.
Receptor Logic receives its funding from Emergent Technologies Inc., an Austin-based venture capital firm that specializes in forming, funding, commercializing and managing biotech companies for the purpose of converting institutional and university-based technology into high-return ventures.
In September 2004, Receptor Logic was awarded a three-year, $2 million award from the National Institute of Standards & Technology’s Advanced Technology Program. According to an Emergent Technologies news release, the Advanced Technology Program “provides cost-shared funding to industry for high-risk research and development projects that have the potential to spark important, broad-based economic benefits for the United States.”
Weidanz says the Institute’s Advanced Technology Program received 870 proposals requesting funding in April 2004 and that each proposal was subjected to a rigorous peer-reviewed selection process.
“At the end of the process, we were awarded one of only 32 grants that eventually came from that proposal cycle,” Weidanz says.