UB spinoff Transira Therapeutics secures federal funding to advance diabetes drug

An illustration of a molecule binding to an important receptor.

University at Buffalo spinoff Transira Therapeutics is developing a diabetes therapy based on a modified version of the hormone oxyntomodulin. In this illustration, the modified hormone (top) binds to a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor (bottom). A chemical linker (top, in turquoise) helps the molecule keeps its helical shape, an innovation that could improve the potential treatment's effectiveness. Credit: Yulin Tian

Release Date: June 25, 2018

Head shot of U B chemistry expert Qing Lin.
“The goal is to develop a once-weekly injectable drug. This will increase the treatment’s effectiveness while making it easier for patients to use the medicine”
Qing Lin, University at Buffalo professor of chemistry and Transira Therapeutics founder

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for diabetes, and many people struggle with both problems on a daily basis.

To address this two-pronged challenge, University at Buffalo spinoff Transira Therapeutics LLC is developing an injectable, hormone-based drug that could help Type 2 diabetes patients control their blood sugar while facilitating weight loss.

New federal funding will support this work, with the company receiving a $224,000 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Transira Therapeutics will use this funding to create a long-lasting version of its therapy that patients would need to inject once a week, says founder Qing Lin, PhD, a chemistry professor in the UB College of Arts and Sciences. This work will be based on a collaboration between scientists at UB and the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr) in La Jolla, California.

“The goal is to develop a once-weekly injectable drug,” Lin says. “This will increase the treatment’s effectiveness while making it easier for patients to use the medicine. With injectable drugs, you don’t want to ask people to use them too often because they may sometimes forget or skip a dose because they are not in a setting that’s convenient to make an injection. That’s why a longer-lasting therapy is so important.”

Transira Therapeutics is one of several UB spinoffs that have received federal funding designated for small businesses in 2018.

“UB and Western New York have invested increased resources in promoting entrepreneurship in recent years, and you can see the impact of these efforts in the great progress that startups affiliated with the university are making,” says Christina Orsi, UB associate vice president for economic development. “These companies are helping to build Western New York’s innovation economy, and their success demonstrates how UB research discoveries can benefit society in important ways.”

Transira Therapeutics has had a close relationship with UB since its launch. Lin or Transira have received funding for research and development from the SUNY Technology Accelerator Fund and the Bruce Holm Memorial Catalyst Fund. Lin also completed the Pre-Seed Workshop, a business boot camp hosted at UB to help aspiring entrepreneurs formulate plans for a high-tech business.

These and other programs geared toward encouraging entrepreneurship at UB have cultivated the growth of Transira Therapeutics and other spinoffs, aiding these companies in securing significant external funding for research and development.

“One of my priorities is innovation and entrepreneurship — moving advances in the lab into new products, processes and companies. The work of Dr. Lin and Transira Therapeutics is a prime example of how economic development and research can have a positive impact on human health,” says SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, PhD. “As they approach this milestone in the commercialization process, they serve as an example of how public universities and the entrepreneurial startup community can successfully work hand-in-hand to bring new, life-saving products to market. Congratulations to the researchers and UB on this achievement, and thank you to the NIH for its continued support.”

A long-lasting, hormone-based therapy

The therapy that Transira Therapeutics is developing is a modified version of the hormone oxyntomodulin that was developed by UB and Calibr researchers, and is protected by an issued U.S. patent, with foreign patents pending.

In the body, oxyntomodulin helps to regulate glucose levels by promoting glucose-dependent insulin production. It also encourages weight loss in part by facilitating processes that reduce food intake and increase the body’s expenditure of energy.

The version of the hormone that Transira Therapeutics is developing has been engineered to increase its efficacy. Specifically, scientists used a patented technique called chemical cross-linking to pin each molecule of the hormone into a helical shape — a conformation that enhances the hormone’s potency and increases the amount of time it can survive in the body.

To make the therapy even longer-lasting, Lin and his team are looking to add a protein to the molecule that can increase the drug’s survival time in the body in part by slowing the rate at which enzymes are able to break down the molecule.

Though Transira Therapeutics is currently focused on advancing a therapy for diabetes, the company’s chemical cross-linking technology is a platform that could be used to develop other pharmaceuticals such as immunotherapies for cancer. The method, developed in Lin’s UB lab, is protected by U.S. and European patents.

Moving forward, Transira Therapeutics will continue research and development of both the diabetes drug and the company’s cross-linking platform technology. The firm is also seeking to raise additional funds from investors with the ultimate goal of developing a drug pipeline based on its technology.

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Charlotte Hsu
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