Imaging the plaque

St. Louis , MO-based biotech company Kereos is working with researchers at Washington University in St. Louis to develop unique therapeutic treatments to detect and treat malignant tumours.

Specifically, the treatment the two are developing targets unstable plaque, one of the most common causes of heart attack that are to blame for most deaths associated with cardiovascular disease.

To persue the research further, the Washington University School of Medicine was just this month awarded a new $7.3 million Biomedical Research Partnership grant from the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

“Unstable plaque lining the walls of coronary arteries is the most dangerous form of the artherosclerotic plaques that underlie heart attacks. When they break off, they are to blame for most deaths associated with cardiovascular disease,” said principal investigator Samuel A. Wickline, MD, professor of medicine and of biomedical engineering at the Washington University School of Medicine and a heart specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital .

“The products being developed from our research will allow us to readily differentiate between the various types of plaques in patients and enable us to treat each patient and plaque more appropriately.”

Wickline and co-investigator Gregory M. Lanza, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and biomedical engineering, are founders of Kereos.

“Even though the dangers of unstable plaque have been known for some time, it has traditionally been indistinguishable from stable plaque, and there was no way to specifically target it. Working in conjunction with Drs. Wickline and Lanza at Washington University, Kereos has developed the first ligand-targeted product that is designed to locate these plaques at a very early stage,” said Robert “Al” Beardsley, PhD, CEO of Kereos.

“The NIH funding for our partnership will support the ongoing development of this product, as well as development of a therapeutic designed to treat unstable plaque by depositing a powerful drug payload directly in the plaque.”

The team first described their new technique- developed primarily at Washington University – to label growing capillaries, thereby identifying locations where plaques are about to form – back in 2002.

Currently, Kereos is co-developing its product for the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) detection of unstable plaque with Bristol-Myers Squibb Medical Imaging.

The company is also developing targeted products using similar technology to better detect and treat malignant tumours, and expects to evaluate its first product for cancer in humans in a Phase I clinical trial next year.

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