January 8, 2018

Branford's Thetis partners with UConn Health on bowel disease remedy

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
UConn Health's Daniel Rosenberg is helping Thetis Pharmaceuticals advance its drug candidate for bowel disease.
Photo | Contributed
Gary Mathias, CEO, Thetis Pharmaceuticals

A Branford biotech is expanding its collaboration with a UConn Health scientist to further its search for a better treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which impacts an estimated 1.6 million Americans.

IBD creates inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, causing abdominal pain, weight loss and other symptoms. Drugs are available to treat IBD, but they don't work for everyone, and some patients afflicted with the condition ultimately choose to have their colon surgically removed.

Scientists aren't certain exactly what causes IBD, which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, but they think it could be related to genetics or diet.

Thetis Pharmaceuticals, founded in 2011, announced in November it won a $2.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study its drug as an oral therapy for ulcerative colitis.

The company has raised about $12 million to date.

"This is a very exciting piece of news for us," Thetis CEO Gary Mathias said.

The money will allow Thetis to expand a pilot study it recently conducted with UConn's Health's Daniel Rosenberg, chair of cancer biology and professor of medicine, among other titles.

Thetis began leasing space at UConn's Technology Incubation Program in Farmington in early 2017 to work more closely with Rosenberg's lab.

The compound they are studying is a naturally occurring lipid called TP-317. Rosenberg is helping Thetis better understand how it affects mice with IBD. The NIH funding will fuel a series of studies over the next six months.

Thetis is seeking a treatment that would be an alternative to IBD remedies currently on the market, such as Humira and Remicade.

"Obviously the goal is to get this into humans," said Mathias, who has suffered from ulcerative colitis since his early 20s, which he said is a more mild case treatable with already-available drugs.

"I've been fortunate," he said.

It's a long road to get a drug on the market, but Mathias is eying late 2019 to start a phase one clinical trial.

Rosenberg said that other scientists have studied using lipids in treating IBD, but he sees TP-317 as unique in its stability and formulation.

He noted that Thetis' application to the increasingly selective NIH received a very high score, which is a notable achievement in what he calls "the most impossible climate for funding in my career."

"Now a days, to get [NIH] funding is almost miraculous," Rosenberg said.

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