Soricimed Biopharma Inc. is a success story in translational research: taking technology from the academic research bench to private industry. Work that began out of curiosity in Professor Jack Stewart’s research lab at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada, was moved into the private sector in 2005. Initially starting as BioProspecting NB Inc., a private, early-stage drug development company, Professor Stewart’s discovery of a proprietary bi-functional paralytic peptide, soricidin, with ion channel modulating characteristics soon became much more.
In 2000 we learned of the paralytic nature of the saliva of the northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda). After finding that no one had identified the paralytic principle, we began a research program to identify the compound produced in this unique and ancient venomous mammalian species.
The ability of shrew saliva to immobilize insects was recognized earlier by Dr. Irwin G. Martin (Martin, I.G. 1981. Venom of the short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda) as an insect immobilizing agent. J. Mammalogy, 62:189-192.). Work in the Stewart laboratory at Mount Allison University led to the discovery and development of a novel mammalian paralytic peptide, now called soricidin, from the shrew venom. The paralytic, non-opioid properties of the peptide suggested potential application for pain treatment (migraine, myofacial pain, neuromuscular disease, chronic and acute neuropathy pain) with the value-added benefit of not being an addictive moiety. Further screening offered another opportunity as it indicated pronounced effects on cancer cells and potential application in oncology. This bi-functional nature of soricidin was another curiosity.
We learned how to separate the paralytic domain of the peptide from the anti-oncology domain, launching two development programs. In addition, we characterized and synthesized the soricidin peptide and several smaller derivatives of it.
We identified the target of the anti-oncology lead peptides as the selective calcium ion channel TRPV6 (transient receptor potential vanilloid family number 6). This ion channel is highly over-expressed in epithelial cancers (ovarian, prostate, breast etc.) and at very low levels, if at all, in healthy tissues. Soricidin derivatives (the C-series peptides) are highly effective inhibitors of this ion channel. In cancer cells that over-express TRPV6, inhibition of the TRPV6 channels interrupts a specific cell signaling pathway, triggering a self-destruct program.
After very successful in vitro studies with many cell lines derived from ovarian, prostate and breast cancers, we identified our lead candidates from the smaller derivative panel of peptides.
As part of the study of the mechanism-of-action of our lead candidate, we learned that the drug target, and the drugs themselves, could be adapted to distinguish healthy cells from Stage I ovarian cancers. We now have proof of concept for a blood test, a peptide-based scanning technology and biopsy test that detects, locates and monitors, or confirms earliest stages of ovarian, breast and prostate cancers. Along with the therapeutic, we are developing a full spectrum of protocols for the early detection of ovarian cancer.
Following a successful transition to animal studies and the discovery that there was a very small toxicity profile, we have begun planning for Phase I clinical trials.
A more recent development is to use the homing nature of the C-peptide to ferry other pharmaceuticals to TRPV6-rich tumours and lymph nodes. This latter is another curiosity since the C-series peptides bio-accumulate in lymph nodes opening the possibility of drug delivery directly to them, as well as tumours.
Currently, there are three main components to the soricidin platform:
- the C-series peptides (anti-cancer domain peptides) therapeutic capabilities,
- the C-series peptide prognostic/diagnostic/drug delivery capabilities,
- the N-series peptides pain/analgesic capabilities.
As work at BioProspecting progressed and moved through the preclinical stage, it became obvious that a more globally oriented biopharma image was required. In 2010, we changed our name to Soricimed Biopharma Inc.
Bolstered through a recent conclusion of our Series A round of financing, Soricimed is now moving the oncology applications toward the completion of a Phase I clinical trial and moving the early diagnostic discoveries toward a prototype.