Dr. Cymballine Culiat of ORNL and NellOne Therapeutics
UT-Battelle LLC today announced it has licensed patents to NellOne Therapeutics Inc., with an eye toward new therapies that would restore both mass and function to damaged human hearts and skeletal muscle.
UT-Battelle said the patents cover inventions based on the Nell-1 gene, and explained the protein therapy treatment under development takes advantage of the Nell-1 gene's cell-signaling pathway, which controls tissue growth and maturation in mammalian organs.
Cymbeline Culiat, Ph.D., (at left) an ORNL systems genetics researcher, identified the role the Nell-1 pathway plays in tissue growth and maturation and is now leading development for NellOne.
In materials released today, UT-Battelle said, "If successful, the protein therapy could improve the lives of victims of heart attacks and severe muscle wounds. Other therapies, such as stem-cell treatments, have succeeded in triggering tissue formation but fall short in restoring the actual function of the tissue."
Battelle Ventures and Knoxville-based affiliate Innovation Valley Partners (IVP) created NellOne in 2008 with a $1.5-million seed investment. The fledgling enterprise, charter as a Delaware company, operates from IVP offices.
Tom Ballard (at left), director of the partnerships directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which supports commercialization of technologies, told VNC UT-Battelle and partners do not release financial details of licensing transactions. However, Ballard said, "Our licensing revenues are shared with inventors and reinvested in activities that further advance the tech transfer mission such as maturing early stage technologies. Licensing revenues last year were about $1.4 million in a tough economy."
Tracy Warren, NellOne chief executive officer and Battelle Ventures general partner, said in materials provided VNC in advance of a release this afternoon, "Our executing this license is confirmation from NellOne that sufficient proof-of-principle experiments have been completed and that the company is progressing toward the commercialization of an extremely promising technology that could one day vastly improve the lives of countless heart patients." Warren noted, "A medical treatment based on the patented technologies is years away..."
The ORNL website indicates Dr. Culiat earned her Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee, ORNL Graduate School for Biomedical Sciences; and, earned her bachelor's and master's of science degrees at the University of the Philippines. For additional information on NellOne, see the Knoxville News Sentinel's story of Jan. 28. ♦