Startups on the menu
In 2012, Salvatore Albani, then at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California, presented at SciCafé his work exploiting the role of heat shock protein (HSP) in rheumatoid arthritis. Albani has developed a 15-mer synthetic peptide, dnaJP1, derived from HSP dnaJ. Oral administration of the peptide, which is one of the dominant proinflammatory epitopes in rheumatoid arthritis, is thought to induce mucosal tolerance and suppress inflammation. A company formed around the intellectual property, Archimedes Therapeutics, took the peptide into a proof-of-concept phase 2a trial in rheumatoid arthritis (E.C. Koffeman et al., Arthritis Rheum. 60, 3207–3216, 2009) and is now seeking funds to support a phase 3 trial. Nature Biotechnology talked to Albani about his involvement in Archimedes.
Nature Biotechnology: When did you decide to start a company?
Salvatore Albani: The idea was the outcome of discussions with friends and colleagues who became excited by the opportunity to do something novel. Targeting the HSP proinflammatory circuit, rather than the initial antigen triggering disease, was a completely new approach to arthritis treatment; there is also a need for an alternative to current biologic treatments against tumor necrosis factor-a, which mediate nonspecific immunosuppression and are associated with serious adverse toxicities. A group of professionals with complementary experiences and expertise formed Archimedes Therapeutics with the objective to raise sufficient capital to support clinical development. Seed funding was provided by some of the company's partners.
NBT: What are your future plans for Archimedes?
SA: In addition to dnaJP1, we have a biomarker platform that addresses a large unmet medical need—the inability to predict responsiveness to expensive therapies that work only in a proportion of RA patients. The development of this biomarker technology into a chip to be used to inform therapeutic decisions is potentially attractive for the patients, first and foremost, but also for the payers and for industry, which is jockeying for market share in a crowded space. This technology has been acquired by another company and licensed for co-development.
NBT: How do you balance your academic and entrepreneurial roles?
SA: At Archimedes I provide information and advice for scientific development of the product. There is no intersection at this time with anything I do in academia, and I go to great lengths to ensure that my roles are well demarcated.