December 7, 2010
Investigators at Southern Methodist University and The University of Texas at Dallas have discovered a family of small molecules that shows promise in protecting brain cells against nerve-degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Huntington's, which afflict millions.
Dallas-based startup EncephRx, Inc. was granted the worldwide license to the jointly owned compounds. A biotechnology and therapeutics company, EncephRx will develop drug therapies based on the new class of compounds as a pharmaceutical for preventing nerve-cell damage, delaying onset of degenerative nerve disease and improving symptoms.
Treatments currently in use don't stop or reverse degenerative nerve diseases, but instead only alleviate symptoms, sometimes with severe side effects. If proved effective and nontoxic in humans, EncephRx's small-molecule pharmaceuticals would be the first therapeutic tools able to stop affected brain cells from dying.
"Our compounds protect against neurodegeneration in mice," said synthetic organic chemist Edward R. Biehl, the SMU Department of Chemistry professor who led development of the compounds at SMU. "Given successful development of the compounds into drug therapies, they would serve as an effective treatment for patients with degenerative brain diseases."
EncephRx initially will focus its development and testing efforts toward Huntington's disease and potentially will have medications ready for human trials in two years, said Aaron Heifetz, CEO at EncephRx.
Biehl developed the compounds in collaboration with UT Dallas biology professor Santosh R. D'Mello, whose laboratory has been studying the process of neurodegeneration for several years.
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