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Media Contact:
Dr. Scott Laster, 919/515-7958
Mick Kulikowski, News Services, 919/515-3470

June 15, 2006

Centennial Campus Collaboration May Yield Benefit For Flu Sufferers


Dr. Scott Laster
Dr. Scott Laster

Can a cancer drug reduce the sometimes severe symptoms of various forms of influenza, possibly even the dreaded avian flu? How does a company focused on cancer research collaborate with an immunologist interested in controlling the effects of inflammation in diseases?

The partnerships spawned due to the existence of NC State’s Centennial Campus hold the answers to these questions.

Dr. Scott Laster, NC State professor of microbiology, and the research and development arm of Erimos Pharmaceuticals – a Houston, Texas, company focused primarily on the discovery, development and commercialization of cancer drugs – recently filed a joint provisional patent for use of a developmental Erimos product to reduce the often fatal complications of multiple flu strains, including avian flu. The product – a small molecule named EM-1421 – is currently in clinical trials for treatment of malignant tumors.

Laster and Dr. Jonathan Heller, vice president of research operations at Erimos, both point to the Centennial Campus Partnership Office – which is responsible for facilitating relationships between faculty and Centennial Campus tenants – as the early force behind the partnership.

Amy Lubas, a partnership developer on Centennial Campus, says that when companies show interest in locating on Centennial Campus, her office springs into action.

“It’s the Centennial Campus model to examine the possible connections between our industry partners and NC State faculty,” she says. “Erimos wanted to locate its R&D facility somewhere in the Research Triangle, but came to Centennial Campus because it wanted the close connections with faculty. We sent an e-mail to a number of departments on campus that might benefit from a relationship with Erimos, and then set up a meeting for those interested to meet with Erimos representatives.”

During these roundtable meetings, Lubas says, the companies describe their research in fuller detail, allowing faculty members to ascertain if that research dovetails with their own.

In this case, that June 10, 2003, meeting introduced Erimos to Laster.

“In my research, I had been studying a molecule similar to EM-1421, so when I found out that Erimos was on campus and looking to partner with faculty, I was intrigued by its research and eager to share my knowledge,” Laster says.

Laster and Erimos began collaborating on new uses for Erimos’ EM-1421 product, particularly for the treatment of diseases that cause extreme responses by the immune system. Heller says the collaboration has been “tremendously helpful in our understanding of how EM-1421 works in different cells and disease systems. The focus on influenza materialized almost two years after we began working together.”

The chemical compound in EM-1421 is a derivative of a compound produced by the creosote bush, a weed that grows in the southwestern United States. Laster says that Native Americans used the bush to make a tea to treat inflammatory disorders.

Laster is particularly interested in the mechanisms that cause inflammation. The body’s immune system is adept at waiting for an invasion from viruses looking to do harm, he says. But sometimes the immune system goes haywire, producing an extreme response resulting in too much inflammation. That can cause serious damage and even death, Laster says.

 “Cancer is really the out-of-control replication of cells,” Laster says. “Whether a cell is inflamed – as in flu – or cancerous, we’re looking for a drug that blocks certain central processes to rein in out-of-control cells. EM-1421 may help restrain these out-of-control cells, allowing the body’s cells to defend themselves while preventing dangerous overproduction.”

Now that the joint patent has been filed, Laster will utilize a yearlong series of laboratory experiments to determine EM-1421’s effectiveness against various flu strains. If the studies net promising results, Erimos could proceed to a clinical testing phase.

“With Erimos Pharmaceuticals located on Centennial Campus, we can write highly targeted joint grants, and within a matter of months, experiments can begin,” Laster says. “Typically in a university setting, faculty seeking to do research must undergo years of grant-writing with local and federal agencies; it can take years to obtain the funding to finally perform experiments. Getting answers that may help people in a shorter span of time is certainly a tremendous plus for the university and for a company like Erimos.”

- kulikowski -


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