Koru Biopharma Develops Exciting New Therapy for Pancreatic Cancer

Koru Biopharma, a spinout of The Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center, is determined to revolutionize the treatment of one of the world’s most deadly cancers while preserving patient quality of life.

“Pancreatic cancer is considered one of the most aggressive cancers,” said Tim Tracy, Koru Biopharma CEO. “More than 58,000 new cases are identified in the United States each year with a median survival time following the diagnosis of about five months. It is this terrible human toll caused by pancreatic cancer that we are addressing with the drug we are developing.”

Creating New Solutions to Intractable Problems

Pancreatic cancer is incurable. Current treatments can be brutal and are not very effective, as evidenced by less than five percent of diagnosed patients being alive after five years.

Koru Biopharma’s new approach to tackling pancreatic cancer is based on a compound developed by Dr. Dario Palmieri, OSU Research Scientist, that has demonstrated effectiveness against solid tumors.

Dr. Palmieri developed 4LB5, which is a human antibody fragment. It targets a protein necessary for cell survival and replication, usually only in a cell’s nucleus. However, when cancer is present, the protein trans-locates to the cell’s outer surface, where 4LB5 can bind to the protein and disrupt the growth.

Because of this unique translocation process, 4LB5 only affects cancer cells leaving normal cells unaffected. The more aggressive the cancer is, the more the protein trans-locates to the exterior of the cell and the greater the expected effect of 4LB5.

“Our drug follows that protein into the cell and disrupts the machinery that the cancer needs to survive. Because it is an antibody fragment and not a whole antibody, it is less likely to produce off-target effects since it won’t be as immunogenic,” Tracy said.

In addition to its direct effects on the cancer cells, 4LB5 can also be used to deliver other cancer-fighting drugs selectively to cancer cells. This selectivity is expected to result in greater efficacy and fewer side effects than if the cancer-fighting drug were given alone, where it could interact with both cancer and normal cells.

“We are aiming for precision therapy,” said Tracy, who came to understand the impact of this disease when someone dear to him was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Next Steps

“The way I see this,” Tracy said, “it is an opportunity to make a big impact on patient’s lives by both increasing survival and improving the quality of their lives during this extended survival time. This is taking the fruits of academic research and commercializing it for the benefit of patients.”

Koru Biopharma—Koru means life in Japanese—is building out the company. “It all goes back to finding people with passion, creativity, and a commitment and excellence,” said Tracy. “We are looking for people to fill out the team and are in discussions with potential scientific advisors and board members with national and international expertise.”

Learn more about how Rev1 Ventures’ startup studio approach helps spinouts and startups. Contact us here.