Partnership with biotech company aids VCU researcher’s quest to treat inflammation, brain injuries

Cutting-edge academic science has met the biotechnology industry in a relationship that’s uncovering new ways to interpret and treat people with chronic inflammation.

Kirsty Dixon, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the VCU Department of Surgery, is working with an emerging Florida-based biotechnology company, INmuneBio, to use its XPro1595 drug to test therapies for a number of conditions linked to chronic inflammation. Her research spans conditions that affect many patients such as acute and chronic problems associated with traumatic brain injuries. She’s also looking at a lesser-known brain disorder commonly found among Gulf War veterans, known as Gulf War Illness.

Dr. Dixon came to VCU in 2014 to direct research and development of anti-inflammatory therapies. She heard about XPro1595 and reached out to INmuneBio.

VCU’s Office of Vice President of Research and Innovation facilitated a material transfer agreement (MTA) with INmuneBio to allow Dr. Dixon to use XPro1595 in her research studies.

Magdalena K. Morgan, director of licensing at tech-transfer office VCU Innovation Gateway, said researchers increasingly look for such collaborations with companies as federal grant opportunities become scarce.

In this case, INmuneBio “provided Dr. Dixon material for research that normally she would not be able to obtain for the research, because the drug is not yet commercially available,” said Morgan, whose office protects and licenses university-created IP. “Out of this research collaboration came exciting data and a path to treating an unmet need in patients with head injury.”

RJ Tesi, M.D., INmuneBio CEO and chief medical officer, said Dr. Dixon’s research is particularly important as doctors and scientists delve into chronic inflammation, particularly its long-term connection to brain injuries and other diseases.

Unlike acute inflammation, which is crucial for survival because it’s the body’s mechanism for reacting to injuries, with chronic inflammation, Tesi said, “you don’t see it, you don’t feel it.”

“We’re only beginning to know how to diagnose it and it is unclear how to treat it,” he said, “and it’s killing us.”

Tesi said the collaborative partnership with Dr. Dixon is a prime example of how science and industry reach breakthroughs. She has the knowledge and obtains funding to perform the pre-clinical studies, while INmuneBio works to secure grant money and additional funding for clinical trials — and ultimately, commercialization.

Scientists like Dr. Dixon “get a hypothesis and then they go looking for the tool that helps them answer the question,” Tesi said. “It turns out our tool is XPro1595 and it works extremely well for her.”

So well, in fact, that one of the more recent applications of XPro1595 Dr. Dixon is studying – the Gulf War illness – has caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Defense.

INmuneBio will help with the required commercialization plan for Dr. Dixon to apply for additional DoD grants that would further research in that area.

“With my laboratory performing the pre-clinical translational science, INmuneBio has been able to prop up the commercialization side of it, so together, it’s a package the Department of Defense has shown interest in,” Dr. Dixon said.

“I wouldn’t be as successful as I have been without their support,” Dr. Dixon said of INmuneBio. “It takes the combination of pre-clinical science and industry to move a drug forward.”

Tesi said as Dr. Dixon expands the basic science knowledge of what XPro1595 can do, this collaborative effort lays the foundation for clinical trials and progress into other areas that they may not know about yet.

“As she unravels these stories, we get hints of other things we can do,” Tesi said, and “we learn together.”