It’s been a dozen years since Brown University Warren Alpert Medical School professors Yow-Pin Lim and Douglas Hixson made the jump from scientists to entrepreneurs with the founding of ProThera Biologics LLC.
Now, backed by more than $8 million in state and federal research investments, ProThera can see a day when its work on life-threatening diseases will become a treatment.
The East Providence startup is encouraged by the results of an animal study funded by the National Institutes of Health into whether its technology is an effective protection against anthrax.
The company recently moved into a new office and laboratory space in the former FujiFilms building on Massasoit Avenue in the waterfront district, which will allow it to scale up production of trial materials.
And after being funded through government grants and Rhode Island’s Slater Technology Fund to this point, Lim said ProThera is now looking for investors. “When we started, we didn’t know what this molecule could do,” Lim said, “and now we know more clearly the potential. The approval we got in principle and in several animal models gives us more confidence, we are on the right track.”
ProThera’s first chance to implement its research could come next year with the conclusion of the animal study, which is expected to provide the data needed to market a treatment to the U.S. government as a bio-defense agent.
Like most biotech concerns, reaching a broader medical market will take still longer due to the demands of the Food and Drug Administration pharmaceutical approval process.
“Right now we are testing efficacy on anthrax, but it could be avian flu or swine flu or a number of biological agents – the problem now is it is one bug one drug, but potentially how many drugs can be bioweapons,” Lim said. “Biodefense is one thing, but our focus ultimately is sepsis, systemic inflammation. We can use this for a whole range of clinical diseases.”
The idea behind ProThera Biologics is actually a set of proteins produced by the liver, called inter-alpha inhibitors, whose properties were discovered accidentally in the labs of Rhode Island Hospital.