UCSF spinout launches crowdfunding campaign for Ebola drug

Ebola virus under an electron microscope--Courtesy of CDC

Years of flat funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the world's single biggest benefactor of biomedical research, has created an increasingly competitive environment for scientists looking to win grants for basic science studies. That has pushed more and more researchers to look for alternative ways to raise cash.

One startup is jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon in hopes of testing a drug candidate in its pipeline against the deadly Ebola virus, which has killed 1,350 people in the worst outbreak of the disease in West Africa, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organization.

Spun out of the University of California, San Francisco, OncoSynergy says it is teaming up with the e-marketplace Science Exchange and crowdfunding platform Experiment, formerly Microryza, for the project. Its goal seems trivial in the expensive world of R&D--the company is asking for a mere $10,000 to fund basic scientific research and to publish the findings in an open-access journal.

Even more curious is the experimental drug that OncoSynergy hopes to test against the Ebola virus--OS2966, a neutralizing anti-CD29 monoclonal antibody originally designed to target the Achilles' heel of solid cancers, including glioblastoma.

Earlier this month, the FDA granted OncoSynergy orphan drug designation for OS2966 for the treatment of glioblastoma, the most common and deadliest primary adult brain tumor. OS2966 inhibits the molecule CD29, a critical cellular receptor associated with tumor growth and progression. Although OS2966 is being investigated in models of highly aggressive cancers, OncoSynergy believes it may also be effective against the Ebola virus. Previous research has shown that the Ebola virus hijacks CD29 when it infects the body's blood cells.

OncoSynergy's proposed studies will examine whether OS2966 can block Ebola infection in cultured human vascular cells.

There's been little Big Pharma interest in developing drugs and vaccines for Ebola, a relatively rare but highly lethal disease that has so far been contained to sporadic outbreaks in Africa. But the ongoing outbreak--the worst in its short history--has underscored the need for prevention and treatment methods to help control the disease and avoid future outbreaks.

Tekmira ($TKMR) and Sarepta Therapeutics ($SRPT) currently have experimental drugs in Phase I, with Biocryst ($BCRX), Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Bavarian Nordic and Profectus BioSciences following close behind with candidates in the preclinical phase. Mapp's therapy ZMapp has been given to a handful of patients in the current outbreak, and the FDA switched its full clinical hold on an experimental Ebola drug to a partial hold earlier this month. Meanwhile, Sarepta has said that its experimental drug is available and can be shipped if a request were to be made to the company.

- here's OncoSynergy's Experiment fundraising site
- read the press release