InterveXion Therapeutics, LLC, a company started in the biomedical business incubator at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), has received a $3 million grant to conduct clinical trials for the first antibody treatment for addiction to the drug known as phencyclidine, or PCP.

The business development grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will provide funding for five years to obtain Food and Drug Administration approval and conduct clinical trials on a protein-based therapy that may blunt the effects of phencyclidine.

Michael Owens, Ph.D., director of the UAMS Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse and a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UAMS College of Medicine, invented the addiction treatment.

“Drug abuse is one of the nation’s most serious health problems and has very few treatments,” Owens said. “We now have fresh hope that we can use medicine to treat drug abuse as a medical problem and not just treat it as a law enforcement problem. We also anticipate the technology can be extended from PCP treatment to other drugs, such as methamphetamine.”

Owens and three partners formed InterveXion Therapeutics in the BioVentures business incubator to further develop the process of customizing antibodies for use in blocking the adverse effects of drugs like PCP or methamphetamine on the brain. Through BioVentures, UAMS provides resources and becomes an equity partner in the company.

PCP abuse has been increasing. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the number of PCP doses seized increased more than six-fold from 2001 to 2002. Emergency department visits across the country caused by and associated with PCP increased 28 percent from 1995 to 2002, according to NIDA, and by 42 percent from 2000 to 2002.

Phencyclidine was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic but was abandoned because of the psychological effects it caused, including hallucinations and paranoia, which has led to violent or suicidal episodes.

A unique aspect of InterveXion’s treatment approach is that the antibodies are produced in modified plants grown in a greenhouse. The antibodies are removed and purified for use in an injectable form. In the body they act to neutralize the drugs adverse effects, just like a natural antibody protects against other diseases.

“Growing the antibodies in plants could drastically reduce the commercial production costs for the treatment and make medications more affordable to the patients who need them,” said Barry Holtz, Ph.D., the president and chief executive officer of InfleXion.

According to the US Department of Health, over 12 million people have tried methamphetamine and 7 million have tried PCP in their lifetimes. Over 135,000 sought treatment for addiction to these drugs in 2003, which more than doubles the number who sought treatment in 2000.

The goal is to create therapeutic medications for drug overdose, for reduction of neurological and neurocognitive damage in binge users, for helping recovering addicts resist using the drug again, and to prevent or reduce the adverse effects to chronic users.

Owens joined Brooks Gentry, M.D., an associate professor of anesthesiology, and pharmacology and toxicology at UAMS; Ralph Henry, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville; and Holtz, who was previously a senior vice president for the biopharmaceutical firm Large Scale Biology Corp. of California, to start InterveXion in early 2004. Owens is the chief science officer, Gentry is the chief medical officer and Henry serves as a company vice president.

The venture also has roots in Arkansas’ tobacco settlement funding. The Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI), a partnership of scientists from institutions including UAMS and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, was created by the voter-approved Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act and helped bring Holtz, Owens, Henry and Gentry together in 2000 to research plant-based treatments for drug addiction.

“This is another example of how ABI is stimulating research between universities and industry to help turn basic research into human treatments,” Owens said.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has more than 2,200 students and 660 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.1 billion a year.

UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute.

For more information:
Leslie W. Taylor, 501-686-8998
Wireless phone: 501-951-7260
leslie@uams.edu

Liz Caldwell, 501-686-8995
Wireless phone: 501-350-4364
liz@uams.edu