WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Buoyed by continued successes of a novel method for targeting drugs inside the body, Louis S. Kucera, Ph.D. has formed Kucera Pharmaceutical Co. as a spinoff from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The technique involves the coupling of compounds called phospholipids -- newly developed by Kucera and his colleagues -- with existing drugs, which markedly increases the effectiveness of those drugs against cancer and viruses, including hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. The combinations often mean that chemotherapy can be given orally rather than intravenously.
Kucera, professor of microbiology and immunology, already holds five U.S. patents and several pending patents in relation to his research, and Wake Forest and UNC have licensed those patents to Kucera Pharmaceutical, which was formally created last week, and which already has its first infusion of venture capital.
Kucera said R. H. (Russ) Read, who has more than 25 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, mostly in the sales and marketing of antiviral drugs, would be president and CEO of the new company. Kucera himself will be listed as senior vice president and founder and his son, Gregory L. Kucera, Ph.D., research assistant professor of internal medicine (hematology/oncology) will be secretary-treasurer. Both Kuceras will remain full-time Wake Forest faculty members.
"This technology is applicable to drug delivery not only for treatment of HIV infections but also for cancer and central nervous system diseases," said Kucera. "The technology has broad applications for developing new strategies for the treatment of human diseases. That's where the excitement comes in."
The company has been in the works for nearly two years, under the guidance of Spencer Lemons, director of Wake Forest's Office of Technology Asset Management. Lemons helped in finding leadership for the company, working to get venture capital, and completing a business plan. A key element of the plan is forming alliances with major drug companies. "Kucera Pharmaceutical Company is a wonderful technology transfer story, involving a clever and motivated inventor, a highly-experienced CEO, a value-added investor, and two entrepreneurial universities," said Lemons.
Kucera said the new class of phospholipids were synthesized by a team of researchers at UNC School of Pharmacy in a collaboration that began in the late 1980s. Those researchers include Susan Morris-Natschke, Ph.D., Khalid Ishaq, Ph.D. and Claude Piantadosi, Ph.D. The key to the new company is the drug delivery system using the new class of phospholipids, which the company is also calling pro-drug carriers. In 1988, Kucera demonstrated that certain phospholipids were active against HIV in human white blood cells. But he found that when a specific phospholipid-- thioether phospholipid -- was coupled with AZT -- a leading AIDS drug, it had several distinct advantages.
"The combination markedly reduced the toxicity of AZT," said Kucera. "And it preferentially targeted lymphoid tissue and the brain, which serve as reservoirs for HIV infection." The combination already has gone through phase I and phase II clinical trials. Large scale clinical trials are expected in the future.
Kucera said the new company is now exploring, with a major drug company partner, using a similar technique to target two of the hepatitis viruses, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. He said Greg Kucera was working on combining the new phospholipid drug delivery system with cancer drugs, and since the new phospholipids target the lymphoid system and cross the so-called blood-brain barrier. That means the combination may be particularly effective against lymphomas, leukemias and brain tumors.
Contact: Robert Conn, Jim Steele or Mark Wright at 336-716-4587