Deal Flow

To go where no research enterprise has gone before in Rhode Island

MindImmune, a drug development startup, enters into collaborative public-private research partnership with URI, backed by a $500,000 seed investment by the Slater Technology Fund

Logo courtesy of MindImmune

MindImmune, a startup drug development firm, has developed an innovative MOU with URI to create a public-private research collaboration.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 7/18/16
A new model of collaborative neuroscience research between URI and MindImmune, a startup drug development firm, heralds a new era in public-private research partnerships in Rhode Island. The research efforts by MindImmune to develop new approaches to treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s focused on the human immune system and neuroinflammation appears to hold great promise.
How will the MOU between MindImmune and URI change the equation around intellectual property and its revenue stream for university research programs? How will the new public-private research neuroscience collaboration at URI interact with translational research efforts now underway at Brown? Is there a public health component to the research looking at potential environmental factors that may cause or exacerbate neuroinflammation? How does the new collaboration fit within CommerceRI’s strategy of investment?
Ximedica continues to expand its footprint, announcing on July 14 that it had acquired Accel Biotech, located in Los Gatos, Calif., increasing the size of the Rhode Island-based firm to five office locations and more than 300 employees. A year ago, Ximedica acquired Bridge Design in San Francisco, part of its growth strategy as a SV Life Sciences portfolio company.
The acquisition of Accel Biotech, whose expertise is in the design and development of in vitro diagnostics and life science laboratory instruments and disposables, expands Ximedica’s West Coast presence.

PROVIDENCE – An MOU establishing the first research partnership ever launched between a private drug discovery firm and the University of Rhode Island and its George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience was signed last week, heralding a new era of public private collaboration in Rhode Island.

MindImmune Therapeutics, Inc., backed by $500,000 in equity seed funding announced on July 14 by the Slater Technology Fund, is targeting the development of first-in-class drugs to treat diseases of the central nervous system, including neurodegenerative afflictions such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases. [See link to ConvergenceRI story below.]

In particular, the research is focused on the human immune system and its relationship to neuroinflammation.

The precise targets and molecules being investigated cannot be discussed at this time, Stevin Zorn, Ph.D., the president and CEO of MindImmune Therapeutics, told ConvergenceRI, because MindImmune is still in negotiations with potential partners to license the molecules and has signed a confidentiality agreement.

“The research work on neuroinflammation has really exploded over the last 10 years,” Zorn said. “It [appears to] play a role in every neurodegenerative disease.”

The confluence of genetic data, imagining data and biochemical data, Zorn explained, have all come together to point at the immune system, particularly in neurodegenerative diseases, as being associated with the pathology of these diseases.

“We are agnostic about [whether the immune system] is causative or exacerbating,” Zorn said. “If it’s causative, we want to stop it, if it’s exacerbating, we want to end it.”

With research focused on the keen interplay between neuroinflammation and mental illness, Zorn continued, “There is now a new angle that heralds an exciting era of medicines to come with breakthrough potential. And that’s where MindImmune has built a team of experts to focus [its research].”

In the lab and in the classroom
As part of the agreement with URI, the four members of MindImmune’s founding team have been appointed as adjunct research faculty at the Ryan Institute in the interdisciplinary neuroscience program.

They include: Zorn, Frank Menniti, Ph.D., the chief scientific officer, and vice presidents Robert Nelson, Ph.D., and Brian Campbell, Ph.D.

Prior to founding MindImmune, Zorn, Nelson and Campbell were employed at the N.J.-based operations of H. Lundbeck A/S, a Copenhagen-based global pharmaceutical company specializing in psychiatric and neurological disorders, where they led the development of a first-in-industry neuroinflammation group.

Menniti previously served as co-founder and chief scientific officer of Mnemosyne Pharmaceuticals, now Luc Therapeutics Inc., a drug discovery venture focused on neuropsychiatric disorders, which recently signed a pre-clinical drug deal potentially worth nine figures with Novartis.

All the MindImmune team of research scientists had been previously employed at Pfizer Inc.

Working relationship
The MOU between MindImmune and URI is the first of its kind in Rhode Island, according to both Zorn and Paula Grammas, Ph.D., the recently appointed inaugural director of the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience.

In addition to the adjunct faculty appointments, URI has committed office and lab space to accommodate MindImmune’s initial operations.

An equally important part of the MOU was reaching an agreement on how the private firm and the public university can work together and not get stuck on issues such as who owns the intellectual property.

“That required some discussion between the lawyers,” Zorn told ConvergenceRI, “to find a way to make this work that is innovative, that URI and a drug company can co-exist and not compete with each other.”

In his previous dealings with other universities, Zorn said, “There can often be very nightmarish discussions when you’re research about who owns what.”

In contrast, at URI, working with Grammas, what MindImmune found was an emphasis on being able to find common ground as well as an excitement about the drug development startup serving as an anchor company, according to Zorn.

Groundbreaking deal flow
For Grammas, the new agreement with MindImmune is a groundbreaking partnership for URI and its recently launched neuroscience institute.

“It’s groundbreaking,” Grammas told ConvergenceRI. “It goes where no one has gone before. It really helps us jumpstart the recruitment of neuroscientists.”

In the world of Alzheimer’s research, Grammas continued, “Our search for causes and treatments has not been successful. There are no disease-modifying drugs. Alzheimer’s is a complex disorder, and we need to look at different mechanisms to really help to advance the field.”

The MOU, Grammas, exhibited the good will and good faith of the partners. “Everybody is happy with what we have going forward, with the areas of convergence and collaboration.”

The backdrop of for the new research partnership is a statewide collaborative agreement among neuroscience researchers, including Lifespan, Care New England, the VA, the Brown Institute for Brain Science, the Prince Neurosciences Institute and the Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, establishing a statewide platform.

Grammas said that she had been meeting regularly as a member of the steering committee with her colleagues from the other institutions.

Grammas also said that she had recently collaborated on a grant with Dr. Stephen Salloway, director of Neurology and the Memory and Aging Program at Butler Hospital and professor of Clinical Neurosciences and Psychiatry at the Alpert Medical School at Brown University.

Grammas is hopeful that what URI is building with its innovative partnership with MindImmune will serve as model for future collaborations. “We’re bringing to the campus a model that hasn’t been here before,” she said. In the future, Grammas continued, other academic programs will pursue similar opportunities with other private entities.

Grammas also told ConvergenceRI that she had not been involved in discussions regarding the targeting of $20 million for an innovation institute involving URI that was approved by the R.I. General Assembly, saying that as far as she knew, it didn’t involved the Ryan Institute for Neuroscience.

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