How This Entrepreneur Is Working To Cure Neural DiseasesCategory:
Neuroscience has been overwhelmed by the challenges of the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) and how to deliver drugs to the brain with minimal invasion for a long time. Nearly 98% of all drugs do not reach the central nervous system (CNS). BBB permeable drugs that used to ease neurodegeneration today only treat some of the symptoms, not the root cause. With nearly 100 million Alzheimer’s and more than 12 million Parkinson’s patients in the world, the need for developing BBB permeable disease halting and curative drugs is needed more than ever before.
Dr. Ram Bhatt, the Founder and Chief Scientist of ICB International, Inc., (“ICBII or ICBI, Inc.”), is one of the few scientists in the world who has developed technology to overcome the problem of BBB. Dr. Bhatt has worked extensively to find permeable technology for the diagnosis and treatment of neural diseases through “SMART Molecules”(SMs). Protected by 5 US and European patents with 4 other pending approval, SMs technology has received three grant awards from internationally known research foundations and the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Joresa Blount: ICBII has been working on ending brain diseases ever since its foundation. Can you walk us through how your team developed SMART Molecules technology?
Dr. Ram Bhatt: Our entire focus has been on non-invasive ways of treating diseases around the brain, keeping in mind that the blood-brain barrier should be penetrated as minimally and as less frequently as possible. We first realized the potential of these molecules in our laboratory.
Monoclonal Antibodies seemed less efficient compared to the SMART molecules, which we designed keeping in mind that they can offer 50 to 150 times greater permeability into the BBB. With their size, these molecules could also penetrate through cell walls.
The development was also focused around specificity. Proteins that contain the trait of the diseases in question are targeted with accuracy through the design we use. There’s another advantage of multitasking that these molecules grant us. One small molecule has the capacity of binding up to 4 different diseases containing proteins. So our development was primarily focused around minimal permeation and maximum results.
Joresa: The Michael J.Fox Foundation has played an immense role in financing ICBII’s aim of finding non-invasive ways to treat neural diseases. How did you get their attention?
Bhatt: Getting noticed by researchers such as Michael J.Fox Foundation came by focusing on creating something which was not only powerful, but something which could find its way into the central nervous system without having to be pushed.
After re-engineering the designed molecule over and over again, trying to remove as many redundant parts in it as possible, I arrived at the smallest possible particle, which was effective. I contacted Dr. Mesilah at the University of California San Diego to carry out the research for me in an academic setting where facilities could sell their engineered mice.
Once I designed new antigens and saw the inhibiting impact of the molecules through a number of PET scans, the Foundation realized the potential of this research. I really appreciate the grants we have received to date and their continued support.
Joresa: In terms of the technology used, how are the SMART molecules a better option compared to other therapeutic approaches, such as mechanical invasion?
Bhatt: SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific Molecular Architecture for Recognition and Therapy. As the name of the technology suggests, the point of making SMART molecules was to ensure that they did not perform random functions and did exactly as they were programmed to do. At present, neural diseases are treated with invasive mechanical techniques or through classical antibodies that find it very difficult to pass through the BBB owing to their bulky size. Compared to these classical antibodies that have been reported to have brain uptake of about 0.1%. ICBII’s SMs have a brain uptake of up to 15%.
These SMART molecules are antibody mimics comprised of heavy-chain only. They do not contain light-chains which the classical antibodies made by humans and animals have. We have truncated them to a quarter of the size of classical antibodies. Our SMs are very specific in their approach to disease-specific proteins, minimizing any side effects which can occur as a result of them being injected. In addition, the chances of them penetrating the BBB are much greater because of their smaller size, giving it an edge over the “hit or miss” techniques used today.
Finally, as I mentioned before, having up to 4 binding sites can make every single molecule very productive. Curative drugs become so much more impactful with efficiency, and that is precisely what SMs hope to deliver better than present techniques.
Joresa: When will the SMART Molecule technology be available to people?
Bhatt: We are hopeful that it will be soon. Already, 5 of our 9 filed patents were approved. With every result, we are making an impact. We’re trying to excel as fast and as cautiously as we can, so the final destination, though tough to get to, might not be very far.