NEW YORK, Oct. 23, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- Envisagenics, Inc., a New York-based biotechnology company leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and RNA-splicing analytics for discovery and development of disease specific therapeutics, announced today that it was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This grant will provide $300,000 over 1 year to expand Envisagenics' proprietary drug discovery platform, SpliceCore®, for the discovery of novel targets for immuno-oncology (IO) therapeutic development.
This is Envisagenics' third SBIR grant and the first from the NCI. Envisagenics was previously awarded Phase I and Phase II grants from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS, NIH) to develop the SpliceCore software platform. SpliceCore generates actionable insights using AI to drive development of splicing-based therapeutics. Using the SpliceCore platform, Envisagenics developed its first therapeutic asset pipeline for triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). Its lead compound targets a novel isoform that is present in 65% of TNBC patients and is currently undergoing pre-clinical studies at Envisagenics' laboratory located at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS at New York City (JLABS @ NYC).
"What makes SpliceCore truly unique is its exon-centric view of the transcriptome. While mainstream transcriptomics is all about genes, we focus on exons because they are the minimal and most powerful informative unit for RNA-therapeutics development. This grant proposal aims to extend the value of SpliceCore for the identification of tumor-associated ectodomains (TAEs), which are small protein domains encoded by three exons or less," said Martin Akerman, co-founder and CTO of Envisagenics. TAEs are peptides present on cell membranes that can elicit an immune response. They may serve as novel targets for IO therapeutics or diagnostic biomarkers. IO therapies represent a major advancement in the treatment of cancers. However, existing IO treatments remain ineffective for a significant number of patients. Current methods to detect TAEs utilize antibody- and/or proteomic-based techniques, which are costly and time-consuming approaches that rely on previous domain knowledge and are limited in their ability to identify novel TAEs. Envisagenics' RNA-based approach utilizes high-throughput sequencing data from patient samples and takes advantage of the high sensitivity of RNA-seq data to uncover novel TAE isoforms. Isoform viability and immunogenicity is then predicted using a set of machine learning algorithms.
Envisagenics will be collaborating in this research with Dr. Omar Abdel-Wahab, an expert in the field of splicing and hematologic malignancies. Dr. Abdel-Wahab is currently an Associate Member in Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program (HOPP) and an Associate Attending Physician on the Leukemia Service in the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). "I am excited to collaborate on this grant," said Dr. Abdel-Wahab. "This software represents an opportunity for cancer and immunology research, allowing for the discovery and profiling of transmembrane proteins using RNA-seq data instead of lower throughput proteomics methods."
"This is a very exciting moment for Envisagenics. While we focus on developing our TNBC assets, this grant will allow us to further explore and develop innovative applications of our platform for therapeutic development, with the ultimate goal of helping patients in need," said Maria Luisa Pineda, co-founder and CEO.
Envisagenics integrates proprietary machine learning algorithms, high performance computing, and RNA-splicing analytics to identify disease-specific splicing variants as therapeutic targets. Envisagenics' innovative SpliceCore® platform envisions the genome as exon trios to find novel disease-specific proteins as drivers of disease. Envisagenics proprietary splicing regulatory modules offer unique insights to qualify and inform target selection and antisense design, which are further validated by wet lab. Envisagenics' first therapeutic program is in triple negative breast cancer. For more information, visit www.envisagenics.com.
Dr. Abdel-Wahab serves on the scientific advisory board for Envisagenics and has equity interest in the company in the form of stock options.
The above referenced grant is issued by the NCI of the NIH under award number 1R43CA246950-01.
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