A promising University of Louisville technology believed to block the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 from infecting human cells now has a commercial partner.
The California biomedical company Qualigen Therapeutics Inc. has signed a license agreement for the technology, and plans to fund continued development with UofL to ready it for market.
The technology, first announced in April, is based on a piece of synthetic DNA — an “aptamer” — known as AS1411, which targets and binds with a human protein called nucleolin. Early tests show AS1411 may stop viruses, including coronavirus, from “hijacking” nucleolin to replicate inside the body.
UofL researchers Paula Bates and Kenneth Palmer partnered to apply the AS1411 technology to coronavirus. Bates co-discovered the base aptamer technology with researchers John Trent and Don Miller and has applied it a variety of ways, including to fight cancer. The cancer application of the technology also is in development with Qualigen.
“This new use of the AS1411 technology, to fight coronavirus, is another example of the relationship we’ve developed with UofL and how we can work together at a high level,” Qualigen CEO Michael Poirier said. “Because of our outstanding partnership in the cancer area, we believe that our combined effort will be up to the enormous challenge with COVID-19. This is a critically important effort that could provide much needed help to COVID-19 patients worldwide. It is imperative that we do everything we can to succeed.”
Palmer, who is director of UofL’s Center for Predictive Medicine and Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, conducted proof-of-concept experiments showing the aptamer was effective against the virus at doses shown to be safe in humans by previous research.
The lab is one of only 12 regional and two national biocontainment labs in the United States and the only one in Kentucky. Established with support from the NIH to conduct research with infectious agents, the lab includes Biosafety Level 3 facilities built to the most exacting federal safety and security standards. The stringently secure facilities protect researchers and the public from exposure to the pathogens being investigated.
“This has been a true collaborative effort — everyone at UofL has rallied together to take on this big global challenge,” Bates said. “I am fortunate to be at UofL, which is one of the few places in the country where we have the facilities to do this important work.”
Both AS1411 applications — to fight cancer and coronavirus — are licensed to Qualigen through the UofL Commercialization EPI-Center, which works with startups and industry to commercialize university-born technologies.
The work so far on the technology’s COVID-19 application has been partially supported by a gift from shipping giant UPS, which in early May announced a $100,000 contribution to fund trials and test materials.