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Unidym Spin off to Investigate Medical Uses of Carbon Nanotubes

Published on March 20, 2008 at 1:21 PM

Unidym, Inc., a majority-owned subsidiary of Arrowhead Research Corporation (NASDAQ:ARWR), announced today the formation of a spin-off company, Ensysce Biosciences Inc., that will focus on research into the medical therapeutic applications of carbon nanotubes. Unidym has licensed its extensive nanotechnology patent portfolio to Ensysce for this field of use and in return holds a significant equity position in Ensysce. The inception of Ensysce stems from the final research interests of the late Dr. Richard Smalley, the 1996 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry from Rice University, who was among the pioneers in considering the potential therapeutic applications for carbon nanotubes. Unidym acquired rights to Dr. Smalley’s work in carbon nanotechnology through a corporate merger in April of last year.

“Unidym’s carbon nanotubes have been widely used in a variety of very promising medical therapeutic research,” noted Art Swift, Unidym’s president and CEO. “Given the broad applicability of our IP portfolio, it was a natural move to create this spin-off company to, over time, return previously untapped value to Unidym’s shareholders by focusing on the application of our intellectual property in medical therapeutics for the systemic treatment of disease, an area that is outside Unidym’s core business focus on electronics applications for carbon nanotechnology.”

Ensysce will immediately begin working with several of the world’s leading chemists and clinicians in the field developing carbon nanotube based therapeutics. One of its first moves is to fund the existing studies using carbon nanotubes for delivery of short interfering RNA (siRNA) using animal models, led by Dr. Bruce Weisman at Rice University and Dr. Garth Powis at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center.

“We have a strong group between our two organizations working in the area of siRNA and are looking forward to working closely with Ensysce,” said Dr. Bruce Weisman of Rice University. “In addition to funding our research, Ensysce will provide a clear path to market for our work.”

In parallel, Ensysce will immediately fund the research at Stanford University being led by Dr. Hongjie Dai and focused on the delivery of chemotherapy drugs such as taxol and doxorubicin using carbon nanotubes.

“We have made significant progress in delivering chemotherapy drugs into tumor cells and have reached the point where we hope to work with a commercial entity to take our work to the next level,” said Dr. Hongjie Dai of Stanford University. “Ensysce’s participation in our work could help us progress to animal trials for a solution to substantially increase the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs, while reducing toxicity outside of tumor cells.”

Ensysce is also looking at novel ways of using carbon nanotubes to directly treat tumor cells. As a part that research funding program, Ensysce will also fund a team led by Dr. Lon Wilson of Rice University and Dr. Steven Curley of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. This team is preparing to move into human trials a cancer therapy that uses carbon nanotubes exposed during treatment to RF radiation.

Terms of the licensing arrangement between Unidym and Ensysce were not announced, but include up-front licensing fees, ongoing royalties, and a significant equity position for Unidym in Ensysce Biosciences. In addition, Unidym will provide contract services to Ensysce, including supplies of research grade nanotubes, back-office and accounting support. Initial operating costs of the new venture, including the funded research at Rice, M.D. Anderson and Stanford, are funded by an angel investor interested in the therapeutic applications of carbon nanotubes. Ensysce expects to put an experienced biotech management team in place after it generates initial animal data from its funded research.

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