MIT-Born Enumeral Advances Human-Based Method for Hunting Drugs

12/20/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Geneticist Arthur Tinkelenberg has always been struck by the lack of strategy in scientific research. “Historically it’s been somewhat ad hoc,” he says. “For example, why do we study fruit flies? Because somewhere in the dim past, somebody did something interesting with a fruit fly, and now you have a whole field.”

So when Tinkelenberg was presented with the opportunity to lead New York-based biotech startup Enumeral Biomedical last spring, he jumped at the opportunity. Enumeral is based around technology invented by J. Christopher Love, an associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT who developed a way to measure how the human body responds to infection and disease. Enumeral’s technology, called “protein microengraving,” allows scientists to take cells from people who, say, have survived cancer, and then scrutinize those cells to identify antibodies involved in fighting the disease.

Enumeral’s startup team is marketing the technology as a completely new way to find ideas for innovative drugs—namely by studying real human cells, as opposed to fruit flies, bioengineered mice, or any of the other critters biotech researchers generally use. “We have to find better ways to validate drug candidates, and the way to do that is to start with human-based samples,” Tinkelenberg says.

Although it’s only been around about five months, Enumeral has already piqued the interest of venture capitalists and pharmaceutical companies. It has raised a total of $4.25 million from a group of investors led by Harris & Harris, a New York-based venture capital firm that invests in nanotechnology startups. And Tinkelenberg says the company is in ongoing discussions with potential pharmaceutical partners and hopes to have two to three deals locked up in the first quarter of 2012.

The quest to make drug discovery more human has been a major priority for Big Pharma in recent years. The industry has placed much of its hope in so-called humanized mice, which are rodents that have been engineered to possess fully human immune systems. Scientists expose the mice to human diseases and then extract … Next Page »

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