A chance discovery made by Yale professor Dianging (Dan) Wu shows promise for treating challenging cancers. “We wanted to understand the role of this target for cancer,” says Wu, “and we found it plays a very important role in immune suppression.” This novel immune checkpoint inhibitor appears to be particularly effective in intestinal and colorectal cancers which are resistant to current immune inhibitors. Hangzhou Just Biotherapeutics (Just China) recognized the potential of his findings and the value created by the characterization of the target and its biological pathway. The company recently licensed the technology from Yale.
“This project took off when Dr. Wu realized that what he observed for this target was the opposite of what he had expected. This is the kind of surprising result that becomes an opportunity,” says David Lewin, Senior Associate Director of Business Development at the Yale Office of Cooperative Research which helped to patent and commercialize Wu’s discovery. “His observation led to the development of a prototype antibody therapeutic, which was then humanized, characterized and subsequently partnered with Just China.”
This project has been in development in Wu’s lab for the past eight years, and has relied on a series of connections and funding opportunities to move forward to this stage. Wu’s relationship with China-based contract research groups specializing in antibody discovery and antibody humanization allowed him to make the initial mouse antibody, which was humanized to demonstrate that the activity of the mouse antibody was preserved in a form required for a human therapeutic.
The characterization of the mouse antibodies enabled him to receive a $500,000 grant from the Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund (CBIF) in 2015 to further characterize a humanized form of the mouse antibody as a treatment for colorectal cancer.
The CBIF funding, says Wu, represented “a very critical contribution in our work to figure out the mechanism for action, which was critical for potential partners to understand as part of their evaluation of the antibody.”
“This investment in technology embraces one of the original reasons the Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund was created,” says Matt McCooe, CEO of Connecticut Innovations. “This grant supported the advancement of research and has expedited the licensing of the technology. We look forward to hearing about Dr. Wu’s continued success in the future.”
With additional research support from Just China, Wu will gain resources to further explore the biology and identify new targets for therapeutic intervention and expertise from Just to move the humanized antibody into clinical trials and therapeutic development for patients. Wu is optimistic that his years of basic research will come to the aid of patients in need in the next few years.
“We’re looking forward to Just China’s pre-clinical to clinical testing of Dr. Wu’s molecules in the near future,” says Lewin. “Just has the knowledge, commitment and infrastructure to do it well.”