August 16, 2010
Marquette, pharmaceutical firm AviMed sign licensing agreement
Second university start-up is developing drugs for the treatment of schizophrenia
MILWAUKEE – Marquette University has completed a licensing agreement with AviMed Pharmaceuticals, LLC, a Milwaukee-based company. Based on 10 years of research into a novel brain mechanism involved in schizophrenia, AviMed is using proprietary technologies to develop pharmaceutical therapies to treat the psychiatric disease.
AviMed was founded by two Marquette professors, Behnam Ghasemzadeh, associate professor of biomedical sciences and the company’s president and chief scientific officer, and Daniel Sem, associate professor of chemistry who serves as AviMed’s CEO.
Ghasemzadeh studied the novel brain mechanism early in his research career and recognized its involvement in the behaviors of schizophrenia. Ghasemzadeh explains: “This brain mechanism has unique properties that make it a promising target for the treatment of neurological disorders including schizophrenia.” Targeting this brain mechanism, he and Sem are now re-engineering existing pharmaceutical compounds that will attempt to counteract the symptoms of this debilitating psychiatric disease that affects more than 2.4 million people in the U.S.
The practice of developing new drug compounds and therapeutic uses based on existing pharmaceuticals is commonly known in the industry as “drug repurposing.” “The discovery of the role of this novel brain target in schizophrenia was really the first big step,” Sem said. “Now we are able to use technology to take advantage of existing pharmaceuticals that interact with this mechanism toward treating schizophrenia.”
“Drug repurposing is a relatively new trend in pharmaceutical development,” added Sem. “Drug discovery is incredibly expensive. Repurposing existing drugs is faster, more cost effective and less risky, making it attractive to investors.”
Sem and Ghasemzadeh now are working on the composition variants of these compounds. “We have a patent pending on the use of the drug compound for treating schizophrenia,” Sem said. “We are also chemically altering the drug to further improve its properties, using methods we have developed and patented.”
This is the second pharmaceutical start-up borne out of Marquette research. The university in January 2009 signed a licensing agreement with Promentis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which was founded by David Baker and John Mantsch, both associate professors of biomedical sciences in Marquette’s College of Health Sciences. (Marquette University holds an equity interest in Promentis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., as part of its agreement with Promentis to license intellectual property owned by the university to Promentis. In addition, the university is the recipient of a subaward with respect to research by David Baker, Ph.D., which involves the subject matter of the license agreement, and the university has provided certain facilities for the use of Promentis consultants in connection with this research.)
The licensing agreement with AviMed further bolsters Marquette’s research commercialization efforts, said Keith Osterhage, executive director of Marquette’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. According to Osterhage, the university’s licensing revenue has grown steadily over the past five years, including a 43.7-percent increase from FY09 to FY10. The university’s total licensing revenue for FY10 was in excess of half a million dollars.
“It’s exciting and rewarding when our professors’ research can be brought to the marketplace to help solve pressing, real-world problems,” Osterhage added. “To that end, taking important work like what Drs. Sem and Ghasemzadeh are doing and finding ways to commercialize it will continue to be a priority for Marquette.”
AviMed is currently forming a board of directors, and in-licensing additional patents needed for its drug development efforts. In June 2009, the venture was awarded second place in the life sciences category of the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. Earlier that year, AviMed was also the “Best Overall Plan Runner-Up” in Marquette’s business plan competition, sponsored by the Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Business Administration.