Hu’s Technology Transfer Office Breaks New Medical Ground

Jerusalem’s Hebrew University has, once again, been at the forefront of tech news. Yissum, the university’s Technology Transfer Office, has introduced a novel device that enhances the diagnostic value of saliva, providing a quick and efficient, non-invasive diagnostic tool that could replace many blood and other invasive tests. Yissum manages the university’s Technology Transfer Opportunities, and works to leverage the universities discoveries across the globe.

Presented at ILSI BioMed Israel 2008, the new diagnostic tool has enormous commercial potential. Most molecules found in blood and urine are also detectable in lower concentrations in the mouth. Studies have indicated that saliva offers a useful method of detecting various cancers, heart disease, diabetes, periodontal disease and various other conditions and infectious diseases like HIV. Obtaining a saliva sample is much quicker, and simpler, than similar blood or urine tests, and offers an inexpensive, and non-invasive procedure that patients could even perform in their own homes.

The problem is the saliva itself. Saliva is a part of the digestive system and contains a high content of proteins to help digest food. One of these proteins, amylase, represents up to 60% of saliva proteins and its presence, in such high quantities, can hamper diagnostic tests by masking the presence of other components. The key, then, to saliva as a diagnostic tool is clearing the whole saliva of this protein.

Professor Aaron Palmon and research student Omer Deutsch from the Institute of Dental Sciences, working together with Doctor Doran Afraiman, head of the Salivary Glad Clinic, Department of Oral Medicine, the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Dental Medicine, conceived and created a simple, disposable device that removes amylase from bodily fluids, including saliva. Using a modified potato starch to absorb large quantities of amylase, the device clears saliva of the protein, increasing the diagnostic value of the saliva sample and enabling detection of low concentrations of biomarkers.

The potential commercial market for such a product is enormous. The USA alone has invested over $65 in the development of diagnostic kits based on saliva. The global market for biomarkers was $5.6 billion in 2007, and is expected to increase to $12.8 billion by 2012.

Yissum has also been making medical tech news with the discovery and development of a novel orally available drug that prevents metastasis formation in various types of cancer, without inducing adverse side effects. Professors Eli Breuer, Reuven Reich and Amnon Hoffman, all from Hebrew Univeristy’s School of Pharmacy, worked together to develop the project, published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

The new drug, cis-ACCP, a small molecule which is a prototype of a family of compounds that may be administered orally, inhibits matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which are extracellular enzymes known to play a pivotal role in tissue remodeling and repair. Pathological over-expression of MMPs has been associated with chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, arteriosclerosis, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver cirrhosis and others. It’s this over-expression that enables tumorigenic cells to invade other tissues and leads to metastasis.

The new drug, cis-ACCP, is the first clinically useful inhibitor of its kind and carries none of the high toxicity that made previous attempts to create similar inhibitors fail. In addition to low toxicity, cis-ACCP is water-soluble and highly bioavailable. Preclinical experiments showed the drug prevents cancer cells from invading adjacent tissue, thus forming metastases, and is effective in the treatment of melanoma and prostate cancer. Results indicated significant reductions in both tumor growth and mesatasis formation through the use of cis-ACCP.

Though many years of testing and development are still ahead for cic-ACCP, this represents a new class of drugs that could potentially change the way cancer is treated. It also represents another potentially huge commercial success for Yissum and the Hebrew University.