KU startup earns $300K SBIR contract to develop cancer-fighting drug technology
LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas startup company has received a federal contract to continue its work on new drug delivery methods for developing more effective cancer treatments.
HylaPharm, founded in 2010, has received a $300,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to repurpose an existing drug for the treatment of breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health, issued the award.
“The SBIR application process is highly competitive,” said Daniel Aires, HylaPharm’s president and CEO and KU Medical Center division director of dermatology. “These awards are designed to give small businesses access to critically needed research and development funds to develop new treatments for patients. Receiving this award validates the promising preclinical results and significant potential of our work.”
HylaPharm is led by Aires and KU pharmaceutical chemist Laird Forrest, who works on the faculty at KU’s Lawrence campus and serves as HylaPharm’s chief science officer. The company is one of 34 KU startup companies, and it is located in the Bioscience & Biotechnology Business Center.
The company has drawn on KU’s deep expertise in drug delivery methods to develop technology to deliver chemotherapy drugs to cancer cells directly while reducing side effects to patients. HylaPharm’s scientists have attached cancer-fighting drugs to nano-sized particles of hyaluronan, a naturally occurring polymer in the body.
“You can think of hyaluronan as a kind of Trojan horse,” Aires said. “Compared to normal injections into the veins, we can get much more of the drug where it needs to go while minimizing side effects in other parts of the body by injecting it directly into the main cancer lesion.”
The drug has effectively treated pet dogs diagnosed with oral cancer, and the company is working to move forward with trials in humans.
HylaPharm’s new project seeks to combat triple negative breast cancer, which is more aggressive and more difficult to treat than other breast cancers. HylaPharm’s drug technology is designed to deliver 100 times more drug directly to the tumor and to the lymph nodes where the cancer spreads. The active ingredient in the project is the drug Rapamycin, which can destroy cancer stem cells and make chemotherapy more effective.
After a year of study, the company will be eligible to apply for a second phase of SBIR funding, which is designed to bring the project to the point where it can begin to be tested in human trials.