A promising technology developed by Duke University faculty entrepreneur Ashutosh “Tosh” Chilkoti, Ph.D., is coming back to North Carolina after a six-year Pennsylvania detour.
And it could result in a new North Carolina life science company, new jobs and new approaches in the fight against cancer.
Duke has purchased an exclusive sublicense from privately held clinical-stage biotech company PhaseBio Pharmaceuticals to use Chilkoti-developed elastin-like polypeptide (ELP) technology in the development of long-acting cancer drugs with minimal toxic side effects. The company and the university have not disclosed the price of the deal.
PhaseBio, started by Chilkoti in 2002, relocated from its Morrisville origins in North Carolina to the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern in 2010. The company still does not have a product on the market.
Now, under terms of the agreement with Duke, the university gets rights to develop and commercialize some of the PhaseBio technology for cancer therapies, while PhaseBio retains rights to all other applications of its ELP technology platform.
Chilkoti, chair of Duke’s department of biomedical engineering, is also director of the university’s Center for Biologically Inspired Materials and Materials Systems. He said early data developed by PhaseBio show promise for components of his ELP technology to improve cancer treatments.
“We look forward to rapidly advancing these programs through early development milestones and realizing their full potential through the formation of a new company or a partnership,” he said in a joint news release announcing the deal.
In 2012 Chilkoti, and one of his Duke grad students and subsequent business partner, Angus Hucknall, Ph.D., created biotech company in Durham called Sentilus. Two years later that company was purchased and absorbed by Norcross, Georgia blood testing company Immucor, at the time headed by Durham native William Hawkins. Hawkins subsequently retired as CEO of that company, and has now returned to Durham, where he’s becoming actively involved in the state’s life science scene. He’s the son of a former Durham mayor, the late James Hawkins.
The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has supported numerous Chilkoti technologies since 1996 with funding totaling some $600,000.