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Start-up company ImmuVen and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have entered into a license agreement under which ImmuVen will develop modified T cell receptor proteins for the purpose of treating cancer and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). ImmuVen was co-founded by Dr. David Kranz of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Dr. Patrick Schlievert of the University of Minnesota.
ImmuVens technology focuses on the engineering of T cell receptor proteins for treatments in which classical drugs have proven unsuccessful. T cell receptors can be found on the surface of T cells, one of the major types of white blood cells involved in fighting diseases. They have many features similar to antibodies including the recognition of foreign antigens.
Unlike classical treatments for MRSA, ImmuVens T cell receptor proteins work by targeting the toxins rather than destroying the foreign organism. ImmuVen took this approach because once the toxins are released into a persons bloodstream, the person will remain sick even after the organism releasing the toxins is killed. For this reason, ImmuVen engineered a T cell receptor protein that binds to and neutralizes the toxins, thereby preventing their toxicity.
Currently ImmuVen is one of only a few companies looking at this approach for treating MRSA, a drug-resistant staph infection responsible for more than 18,000 deaths in children and adults each year. To date, modified T cell receptors have been successful in treating MRSA in animal studies performed at the University of Minnesota.
In addition to treating MRSA, ImmuVen is also engineering T cell receptor proteins that could be effective therapeutics for cancer. Researchers plan to remove the T cell receptor from the patient, engineer it to better target the cancer, and deliver back to the patient. ImmuVen is currently developing strategies to both improve and deliver the T cell receptors.
According to ImmuVen Interim CEO, Tim Hoerr, the next steps for ImmuVen include submission of an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA and continued development of several key leads against MRSA and specific types of cancers. Hoerr realizes how critical this license was to the growth of ImmuVen and is pleased with the efficiency of the licensing process between ImmuVen and the university.