UC Irvine (UCI) startup company Amberstone Biosciences received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding grant for $225,000 for their research and commercialization of a new immunotherapy technique that targets tumor cells.
“One of the major bottlenecks in immunotherapy development is starting with a drug library, then onto the discovery phase to identify a handful of therapeutic candidates and then preclinical and clinical evaluation phases,” said Weian Zhao, Amberstone Biosciences co-founder and UCI associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences. “The discovery phase alone can take a couple of months to years, it’s extremely inefficient. That’s where our technology really comes in to help solve this unmet need.”
Amberstone Biosciences incorporates a proprietary single cell analysis technology that significantly reduces the immunotherapy discovery time as well as the cost involved. As a result, this technology can accelerate the process of discovering many immunotherapies to treat different forms of cancer.
“We can take a few months of practice down to a few weeks, which means saving lives for patients,” said Zhao. “Some patients have very little time to wait, so with our technology, we have the potential to develop a personalized treatment for the patient in a clinically relevant timeframe.”
Zhao, an investigator of the funded research, also added that typical cancer treatments have often provided a one-size-fits-all approach, like chemotherapy drugs, which can incur adverse side effects for the patient.
The technology works by utilizing targeted therapeutics that can unleash the patient’s own immune system to attack tumors. These types of immunotherapies can potentially cure the patient’s cancer, significantly extend life expectancy or improve quality of life.
With the funding, the startup plans to test the feasibility of the technology, which could allow the company to partner with major pharmaceutical companies as well as open the door to apply for a potentially larger phase two SBIR grant.
“By developing this new technology to help patients, whether it’s cancer or something else, that’s what drives our lab,” said Zhao. “We are very appreciative of all the opportunities to develop novel technologies, start companies and work with industry and resources, like [UC Beall] Applied Innovation because it helps us achieve our goals quicker.”
Learn more about applying for an SBIR grant through Applied Innovation.
Main photo: UCI startup Amberstone Biosciences
Photo courtesy of: Weian Zhao