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, Professor Stewart’s lab 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, they 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 neuropathic pain) with the value-added benefit of not being addictive. 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.
The target of the anti-oncology lead peptides was identified 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 most 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 specific but aberrant cell signaling pathways, triggering a self-destruct program.
After very successful in vitro studies with many cell lines derived from ovarian, prostate and breast cancers, the lead candidates from the smaller derivative panel of peptides were identified.
As part of the study of the mechanism-of-action of the lead candidate, it was 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/imaging 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 no demonstrable toxicity, a Phase I multicenter, open-label, dose escalation study was initiated, taking place at cancer centres in both the United States and Canada with interim results expected later in 2013.
A more recent development is a successful proof of concept study using the homing nature of the C-peptide to ferry other pharmaceuticals to TRPV6-rich tumours and lymph nodes. This latter is another opportunity since the C-series peptides bio-accumulate in lymph nodes opening the possibility of drug delivery directly to them, as well as tumours. The success of the peptide drug conjugates will provide a delivery platform by which any drug can be targeted to the tumour.
Currently, there are four main components to the soricidin platform:
As work at BioProspecting progressed and moved through the preclinical stage, the company evolved to a more globally oriented biopharma organization. In 2010, the company name was changed to Soricimed Biopharma Inc.
Bolstered through a recent conclusion of Series A round of financing, Soricimed is focused on moving the oncology applications toward the completion of a Phase I clinical trial and moving the early diagnostic discoveries toward a prototype. Soricimed is actively seeking development and commercialization partners for all applications.