Workshop promotes industry/academia alliances in research and development of therapeutic agents.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - A January 29 workshop at Cook College and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station has set the stage for increased collaborations between academic researchers and pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry for discovering, developing and production of therapeutic agents.

More than ninety experts from academia and industry attended the workshop. Participants from industry hailed from more than 25 pharmaceutical, biotechnology and food companies located in New Jersey and the surrounding region.

“Cook College and the Agricultural Experiment Station faculty view technology transfer as an essential part of their research,” says Dr. Adesoji Adelaja, dean and director of research at Cook College and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. “At this workshop, our researchers had the opportunity to discuss their work and its potential commercialization with leaders from the biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Our purpose for presenting this workshop was to put technology transfer on the fast track.”

Faculty from the Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment, the Center for Advanced Food Technology, the Center for Turfgrass Science, the Center for Deep Sea Ecology and Biotechnology, and the departments of nutritional sciences, microbiology and biochemistry, and animal sciences presented their latest research related to therapeutic agents. Industry presenters included representatives of pharmaceutical companies, including Merck Research Laboratories, Robert Wood Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Institute, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) and BMS Pharmaceutical Research Institute.

“The Workshop was a tremendous success,” says workshop coordinator Dr. Slavik Dushenkov, research and innovations marketing coordinator, NJAES. “The discussions opened informational channels about significant achievements in drug discovery and development, which will promote rapid technology transfer between the pharmaceutical industry and Rutgers faculty.

“A number of companies expressed interest in developing closer ties with Cook College faculty,” Dushenkov added. “Possibilities include high throughput screening research and training programs for the biotechnology industry, and affordable production of recombinant proteins in plants, a technology that may create a new avenue for sustainable agriculture for New Jersey farmers.”

Several speakers focused on identifying disease-promoting proteins that could be targeted by new drugs. Susan Fried, professor, nutritional sciences, described research in metabolism that has opened opportunities for target identification of drugs to act upon metabolic complications of human obesity. Dipak Sarkar, professor, animal sciences and director, endocrine research program and biomedical division of Rutgers’ Center for Alcohol Studies, described his study of the causes of prolactinomas that led to the discovery of novel therapeutic approaches in the treatment of pituitary tumors. Malcolm Watford, associate professor, nutritional sciences department, discussed a gene therapy procedure that could be valuable in AIDS, premature birth and long-term parental nutrition, where patients are unable to consume adequate amounts of protein.

Several researchers described programs that are using proprietary drug discovery technologies for mining new therapeutic agent leads from plants. Over 200 leads for therapeutic treatment agents have been identified. Richard Lutz, director, Center for Deep Sea Ecology and Biotechnology at Rutgers’ Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, told about his explorations in extreme undersea environments, where he is discovering organisms that may be a source of anti-cancer drugs. Jerome Kukor described a program in Microbial Bioprospecting that is designed to search for novel microbial enzymes, single isomer intermediates for the agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries and mining microbial genomic information.

Several Cook College and the Experiment Station faculty described the research tools that they developed through biotechnology. Nilgun Tumer, professor, plant pathology, described her research with Pokeweed antiviral protein, which she has cloned and is being evaluated for effective against the treatment of human viruses and cancers.

Two workshop speakers discussed technologies that have led to “spin-off” companies. Ilya Raskin, a professor of plant science at the Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment, described a technology for therapeutic agent production in plants that was developed in his laboratory. He leads the research for the spin-off company, Phytomedics, Inc. The company exclusively licenses its core technologies and products from Rutgers. The company has several products in various stages of development, including products for viral, inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, erectile dysfunction and sleep improvement, some of which are in clinical trials.

David Evans, CEO of WellGen, Inc., described that company’s biotechnology-based technical process to screen the effect of food and related substances on the expression of genes associated with cancer and other diseases. The screening technology was developed and patented at Rutgers’ Center for Advanced Food Technology and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The company is developing proprietary disease prevention products for the human food, pet-food, dietary supplement, and human therapeutic markets.

Other presenters included:

Gerben Zylstra, interim director of the Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment, who described a state-of-the-art high throughput screening facility that is available for contract and collaborative research with Rutgers faculty and for individualized training sessions.

James Simon, professor, plant science and head of the Cook College and Experiment Station New Use Agriculture and Natural Plant Products program, described the search to identify new bioactive agents in traditional and nontraditional crops for the pharmaceutical and the botanical industries. Unique to this program is the ability and expertise to work from plant sourcing, domestication, breeding, new crop introduction through the production and processing phases.

Chi-tang Ho, professor, food science, Center for Advanced Food Technology, talked about his search for natural antioxidants and antitumor agents from such foods and herbs as rosemary, sage, green and black teas and several herbs used for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Robert Rosen, associate director, Center for Advanced Food Technology, discussed compounds for the treatment of itching, from the simplest cases of bed rash to the worst cases of poison ivy, which have been isolated from plants and characterized. He described a clinical trial of about 10 people, which was approved by the medical Internal Review Board (IRB) of Rutgers, which showed about 90% efficacy. A single treatment was effective from three to four hours.

Ron Poretz, professor, biochemistry and microbiology, discussed inherited susceptibility to neurotoxicants, such as alcohol abuse, environmental lead exposure, or certain pharmaceuticals.

Paul A. Lachance, professor, food science and Nancy M. Childs, marketing, St. Joseph's University, co directors and founders of the Rutgers Nutraceuticals Institute, discussed the Institute’s research and development objectives. The institute is dedicated to targeting and screening plants and plant components (leaves, flowers, stems, roots) or processing waste streams of existing sources of food ingredients (e.g. arachidonic acid modulation properties of the skin of almonds (Prunus amygdalus) and the potential anti-cancer benefits).

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