OptiKira, a New Biotech Start-up, Created to Develop Drugs to Prevent Cell Death Caused by the Unfolded Protein Response

Launched by BioMotiv, the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Washington

CLEVELAND and SAN FRANCISCO and SEATTLE, Feb. 2, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- BioMotiv, a drug development accelerator associated with The Harrington Project, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and University of Washington, Seattle are announcing the formation of OptiKira, a platform company that will develop small molecule therapeutics that prevent cell death in pathologies caused by misfolded or unfolded proteins.

OptiKira is based on intellectual property exclusively licensed from UCSF and University of Washington.  

The project was initiated at UCSF and the University of Washington by scientific founders Scott Oakes, MD, Associate Professor of Pathology at UCSF, Feroz Papa, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at UCSF, Bradley Backes, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine at UCSF, and Dustin Maly, PhD, Associate Professor in Chemistry at University of Washington. Dr. Oakes and Dr. Papa are members of the first class of Harrington Scholar-Innovators, an annual grant competition implemented by the Harrington Discovery Institute at University Hospitals in Cleveland, OH – part of The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development – that enables inventors' discoveries to be advanced towards preclinical proof-of-principle.  

Extensive research by the Founders has helped define the biological pathway leading to progressive cell death which characterizes diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, diabetes, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). They have found that the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR), a mechanism by which the cell deals with functionally abnormal proteins, has an important housekeeping role in cell metabolism. However when overloaded, the "terminal UPR" results in the accumulation of excessive unfolded proteins and cellular death. The team has synthesized inhibitors of IRE1a to prevent the activation of the terminal UPR, while not disrupting the housekeeping role of the enzyme. They have demonstrated that inhibitors of IRE1a, which they have named kinase-inhibiting RNase attenuators (KIRAs), protect cells from degeneration in preclinical models of retinitis pigmentosa and diabetes.

"Our collaborative efforts on targeting premature cell death have produced this unique opportunity to address an unmet clinical need," Dr. Papa commented on behalf of the scientific founders.

"We have been very impressed by the work done by the scientific founders and are excited to partner with them in forming Optikira," said Baiju R. Shah, Chief Executive Officer of BioMotiv.  "We are enthusiastic about the ability for this technology platform to impact a variety of diseases."

About BioMotiv
BioMotiv is the mission-driven accelerator associated with The Harrington Project for Discovery & Development, a $250 million national initiative for advancing medicine centered at University Hospitals in Cleveland.  The focus is to accelerate breakthrough discoveries from research institutions into therapeutics for patients through an innovative model that efficiently aligns capital and collaborations.  The company leverages an experienced team and advisory board to select, fund, and actively manage and advance a portfolio of drug development programs.  Learn more at www.biomotiv.com.

About University of California, San Francisco
UCSF is the nation's leading university exclusively focused on health. Now celebrating the 150th anniversary of its founding as a medical college, UCSF is dedicated to transforming health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with world-renowned programs in the biological sciences, a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and top-tier hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals. This partnership was facilitated by the UCSF Office of Innovation, Technology & Alliances (ITA), which coordinates UCSF's efforts in forging collaborations and licensing technologies that translate cutting-edge science on campus into therapies and products that directly benefit patients worldwide.

About the University of Washington Center for Commercialization (C4C)
As one of the leading recipients of federal funding for research, UW is producing innovations that have the power to change the world—from biofuel alternatives, to more effective treatments for Alzheimer's disease and brain cancer, to purification technology for drinking water in the developing world. The UW Center for Commercialization (C4C) is dedicated to helping UW researchers achieve the greatest impact from their innovations. UW C4C continues to implement new programs and integrate its resources to provide one of the best university commercialization centers for UW researchers.

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