News Release

Duke-NUS commercializes discovery to deliver therapeutics across blood brain barrier

Business Announcement

Duke-NUS Medical School

Intellectual property (IP) derived from discoveries made at Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) have been licensed to a newly formed biotech start-up, Travecta Therapeutics Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based drug discovery company. Travecta plans to use the Duke-NUS technology to develop new therapeutic agents that can be selectively delivered across the blood brain barrier for treatment of diseases of the brain, eye and central nervous system.

The license agreement between Duke-NUS and Travecta was facilitated by the Duke-NUS' Centre for Technology and Development (CTeD), which is part of an innovation and entrepreneurship initiative focused on commercializing research carried out at Duke-NUS.

In 2014, Duke-NUS' Professor David Silver published research that, for the first time, established a path and transport system that specifically takes lipids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acids that are critical for brain development, to the brain. Professor Silver discovered that a transporter protein called Mfsd2a carries DHA in the chemical form of lyso-phosphatidly-choline (LPC) to the brain.

Travecta Therapeutics was born from these findings and founded by Professor Silver, Dr Michael Schleifer and Mr Laurent Benissan from Sprim, a leading global health research and information consulting firm. To support its development, Travecta is backed by TKS I, a healthcare and life science focused venture fund by Tikehau Investment Management in Singapore, a strategic investment arm of Tikehau Capital, which manages €12.6bn of assets under management.

Travecta plans to develop an Mfsd2a-directed drug delivery platform that can efficiently and selectively transport drugs to the brain for improved treatment with reduced side effects. The company plans to work with biotech and major pharmaceutical companies to use its technology for testing and improving the transport of existing molecules.

"The pathway we found can be exploited to deliver new or existing drugs which have proven ineffective due to their lack of transport across the blood brain barrier," explained Professor Silver, who is also Deputy Director of the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Diseases Programme at Duke-NUS and scientific founder of Travecta. "The blood brain barrier prevents more than 98% of small molecule drugs from entering the brain."

CTeD and Professor Silver have worked together for the past several years to develop and commercialise this important technology.

Duke-NUS' Vice Dean of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Professor David M. Epstein said, "developing a platform around the LPC and Mfsd2a transport system for targeted drug delivery represents among the best of our bench-to-bedside innovations. We are confident that Travecta has the capabilities to develop this technology to its full potential. The financial backing for Travecta from a global investment firm like Tikehau Capital and Sprim is a strong testament of confidence that investment communities have in our research and discovery."

"The commercialisation of Professor Silver's discovery via licensing of relevant IP outlines a significant milestone in the fundamental biomedical research conducted at Duke-NUS. I look forward to seeing better therapeutics and improved health outcomes through this platform," added Duke-NUS' Senior Vice Dean of Research Professor Patrick Casey.

"Travecta, with its unique transport technology, can produce scalable results in new drug discoveries which are immediately transmittable to its pharmaceutical partners, while developing an important internal drug pipeline for diseases which have no cure," said Mr Benissan.


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