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Texas company licenses KU diabetes treatment technology

Thursday, November 20, 2014

LAWRENCE – The University of Kansas and Reata Pharmaceuticals of Irving, Texas, have completed a major licensing agreement for a portfolio of drug technologies invented by Brian Blagg, professor of medicinal chemistry, and Rick Dobrowsky, professor of pharmacology and toxicology. 

“This is a very significant development for KU,” said Rajiv Kulkarni, director of KU Innovation and Collaboration.  “Our goal always is to see drug research developed into treatments that help patients.  Reata translates innovative science into medicines for difficult-to-treat diseases, so the agreement is a good fit for them and for KU.”

“We are pleased to add these promising compounds to the Reata pipeline,” said Warren Huff, CEO of Reata.  “Like our other platform technologies, they address fundamental aspects of biology and have potential applications in a range of serious diseases.”

Blagg and Dobrowsky are exploring the potential use of “novologues” for treating a common complication of diabetes: diabetic peripheral neuropathy (DPN). Symptoms of the condition include muscular weakness and numbness and tingling in the arms and legs.

Novologues, developed by Blagg, are a broad group of compounds that show promise in treating cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.  In 2010, he and Dobrowsky reported on the use of the novologue KU-32 in treating DPN.  Subsequent development of their work led to a number of patented discoveries and the licensing agreement with Reata.

“Reata’s resources and experience will help advance novologues toward testing in clinical trials aimed at treating DPN,” Blagg said.  “There aren’t many treatments available to patients with certain forms of this disease.  Novologues would represent a `first-in-class’ approach toward treating a condition that affects 60 to 70 percent of patients with diabetes.”

Early phases of this research were supported by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Subsequent support was provided by the National Institutes of Health. 

“NIH funding helped explain the mechanism of action,” Dobrowsky said, “and gave a boost to our ongoing efforts to develop the next generation of novologues.” 

Reata is working with Blagg and Dobrowsky on a strategy for collaboration with KU.  The company expects to fund new research at Lawrence while it develops the existing technologies it has now licensed.

The agreement with Reata reflects KU’s commitment during the past decade to secure patent protection for the novologue discoveries.  “It’s an expensive process,” Kulkarni said, “and we are selective, based on the likelihood of future success.  In this case, the investment was more than worth it.”

At KU and most universities, technology licensed to an outside company generates revenue that is reinvested in additional commercialization activity and related research.  

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