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Startup focuses on drug that prevents iron absorption into the body

Monday, December 19, 2016

LAWRENCE — Bond Biosciences, a new startup based on research done at the University of Kansas, focuses on a new treatment for patients whose bodies absorb too much iron from the food they eat.

The new technology is from the lab of Cory Berkland, a KU distinguished professor with dual appointments in pharmaceutical chemistry and chemical & petroleum engineering. His research focuses on ways to more effectively deliver drugs to their intended treatment targets in the body.

The new company is seeking to market a pill that will prevent iron absorption. It will be funding preclinical studies for the drug in Berkland’s lab as well as studies that will advance the drug into the clinic and a first study assessing the effect of the drug on the prevention of iron absorption in patients in the U.S. and Australia.

While Bond Bioscience’s corporate headquarters are in New York, discovery and much of the preclinical research for the company will be conducted in Lawrence. The company currently has two employees, and Berkland serves as a consultant for Bond.

“Patients with this condition don’t have any therapeutic options besides giving blood,” Berkland said. “In addition, existing drug products to reduce systemic iron levels in patients with other diseases can come with some nasty side effects.”

A widely available drug for these patients features a black box warning from the Food & Drug Administration and has been linked to unexplained deaths, he said.

Because of this, the most common option for patients is to consistently donate blood, a process that helps limit the amount of iron in patients’ bodies. But this needs to be frequent, and lifelong as the unregulated absorption of iron will continue. Patients often won’t give blood at the recommended rates, complying in the beginning and then missing treatments later.

“Our years of work in drug delivery have led to this new idea for a very safe drug that can prevent the absorption of dietary iron and, we hope, reduce or eliminate the need for lifelong blood donation,” Berkland said.

Bond Biosciences becomes the 38th active KU startup company and the third KU startup created or co-created by Berkland, his fourth overall. Of the 38 KU startups, 28 are located in Kansas.

Ken Audus, dean of the KU School of Pharmacy, said he would welcome a new treatment for this condition, partially because he is among the 150,000 Americans who live with it.

“This project is particularly exciting to me personally from that perspective,” Audus said. “But, more broadly, this development could lead to the development of additional drugs needed in several other clinical situations that prevent the absorption of other metals, as well as safer drugs that may actually remove metals from the body. These could be breakthrough treatments.”

Patients with too much iron in their body can have a higher risk of damage to heart tissue, liver disease and contracting other conditions.

Berkland said he believed forming a new startup company was worth the time and effort.

“It opens up a lot of opportunities,” he said. “We will have the chance to compete for SBIR grants from the National Institutes of Health and will be able to partner with other companies to grow even further.”

Julie Nagel is KU’s associate vice chancellor for innovation & entrepreneurship and president of KU Innovation & Collaboration, the office that heads KU’s commercialization activities.

“This kind of company represents exactly the sort of activity we like to encourage,” Nagel said. “Our goal is to help faculty move their research from the lab to the marketplace, where new products can help benefit the lives of patients.”

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