U of A spinoff company recognized for research to unlock anti-cancer drugs

Meros Polymers among spinoffs and U.S. patent holders celebrated at business incubator TEC Edmonton's annual event.

A University of Alberta spinoff company looking to unlock an entire class of non-water-soluble drug options-including a number of anti-cancer drugs-was recognized at the TEC Edmonton 2019 Innovation Awards yesterday.

Meros Polymers, formed in 2009 to commercialize advanced drug delivery technologies developed by U of A pharmaceutical sciences professor Afsaneh Lavasanifar, was celebrated along with 10 other burgeoning U of A spinoffs and nine U of A technologies receiving a U.S. patent in the last year, at the technology transfer agent's annual gala.

"If drugs are not soluble, you cannot inject them because they have to be soluble in the blood," said Lavasanifar, who published a paper in 2006 on the potential for a drug additive she subsequently patented with the promise of revolutionizing drug delivery. "There are many drug candidates that, if they were soluble, would have better viability."

Lavasanifar, who is also the chief scientific officer and vice-president of Meros Polymers, explained anti-cancer and various anti-inflammatory compounds fall into two of the many classes of drugs that have this problem with water solubility.

"There are drug candidates in development that are very potent, that cannot move into clinical trials because they don't have water solubility," she said. "Our technology can basically act as an excipient or ingredient to solubilize these drug candidates, and hopefully open a new avenue to expedite the drug development process."

Currently there are other materials, such as surfactants and organic solvents, used to solubilize insoluble drugs, but Lavasanifar's technology is safer and has the added benefit of targeted delivery to certain tissues.

For example, in the case of anti-cancer drugs, Meros Polymers' technology can provide targeted delivery to tumours while avoiding normal tissues, said Lavasanifar.

"By doing that, it will reduce the side-effects of the drug and can increase the activity of drugs," she explained.

With her initial studies showing promise for this pharmaceutical ingredient, Lavasanifar and her team signed on with TEC Edmonton to help form Meros Polymers in 2009.

In addition to helping to incorporate Meros Polymers, Lavasanifar said, TEC Edmonton has been integral in filing patents, conducting market analysis, negotiating partnerships and opening financial avenues.

"Early on, TEC Edmonton helped attract some angel investments that kept us going and actually made our company survive," she said.

Licensing for the product has been issued to companies in the United States, Canada, Japan and Europe.

Lavasanifar said the next step is to bring the technology into clinical trials and then partner with more pharmaceutical companies to expand the field of use of the technology.

"Once it gets into clinical trials for one application, I'm sure that the interest in the technology will only grow."

2019 TEC Edmonton Innovation Award winners

Patent awards
(Research teams that received a U.S. patent and have an industry partner)

  • Michael Doschak - Pharmacy. Team: Arash Panahifar, Morteza Mahmoudi
    Preparation of bone-seeking superparamagnetic iron nanoparticles as contrast agents and methods for using the same
  • Abdolamir Landi, Medicine & Dentistry. Team: Michael Houghton, Lorne Tyrrell, Tim Lankisch (DE), Tobias Weismueller (DE), Michael Manns (DE)
    Methods and compositions for diagnosis of inflammatory liver disease
  • Dammika Manage, Medicine & Dentistry, Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences
    Solid gel amplification method and apparatus for platform molecular diagnostics
  • Ratmir Derda, Science. Team: Simon Ng, Seyed Mohammadreza Jafari
    Method of quantifying peptide-derivative libraries using phage display
  • Lorne Tyrrell, Medicine & Dentistry. Team: Hendrikje Geesje Steenbergen, Michael Joyce
    Methods for producing cells having a phenotype of a primary human hepatocytes and compositions
  • Michael Weinfeld, Medicine & Dentistry. Team: Todd Mereniuk, Edan Foley, Dennis Hall
    Synthetic lethality in cancer
  • Richard McCreery, Science. Team: Adam Johan Bergren
    Clipped amplifier
  • Zhi Li, Engineering. Team: Huanlei Wang, Zhanwei Xu, Christopher Holt, David Mitlin
    Carbon nanosheets
  • Jonathan Curtis, Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences. Team: Tolibjon Omonov, Ereddad Kharraz, Xiahua Kong, Mohammad Hossien Tavassoli Kafrani
    Method for polyol synthesis from triacylglyceride oils

Spinoff companies

  • 3Ft. Reach Inc. - Keith Fenrich, adjunct assistant professor and research associate, Rehabilitation Medicine
  • Antibiddies Technologies Inc. - Frederick West, Chemistry, and David Marchant, Medical Microbiology and Immunology
  • Click & Push - Martin Ferguson-Pell, Rehabilitation Medicine
  • LivMor Diagnostics - David Olson, Medicine & Dentistry
  • PEARKO Therapeutics - Gavin Oudit, Medicine & Dentistry, founder and COO; and John Vederas, Chemistry, co-founder and CTO
  • RETAIN Labs Medical Inc. - Georg Schmölzer, Medicine & Dentistry; Matthew Brown, Computing Science, developer; Patrick von Hauff, academic technology specialist, UAlberta designer, RETAIN Labs
  • SenZIoT Technologies - Pedram Mousavi, Rashid Mirzavand Boroujeni, Mohammad Mahdi Honari Kalateh and Hossein Saghlatoon, Engineering
  • True Angle Medical Technologies - Jana Rieger, Rehabilitation Medicine, CEO
  • Tricca Technologies - Scott MacKay and David Wishart, Science; Jie Chen, Engineering; John Chiu, Medicine & Dentistry
  • WWiKY Biosciences - Leonard Wiebe, professor emeritus, Oncology, president and CEO; Piyush Kumar, clinical professor, Medicine & Dentistry; Michael Weinfeld, Medicine & Dentistry