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SoyMeds Gets Additional $1M NIH Grant

Charlotte-area biopharmaceutical company SoyMeds has been awarded a $1.05 million two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to help advance its unique system for “growing” a medicine in transgenic soybeans.

The grant is the latest round of NIH funding to support the work of the Davidson spin-out from the University of North Carolina Charlotte. The company was awarded about $550,000 in NIH funding in 2013.

Since its founding in 2005 by UNC Charlotte researchers Kenneth Bost, Ph.D., and Kenneth Piller, Ph.D., the company has been working toward a therapeutically and commercially useful application of its technology. The work involves manipulating the genetics of lab-grown soybeans to create proteins to treat, prevent, cure, and diagnose disease.

Piller, president of the company, said the current award will support SoyMeds research to determine whether its technology can be used to produce a protein in transgenic soybean milk that can be useful as a therapeutic against the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis (MG). MG results in long-term muscle weakness, most commonly affecting muscles of the head and face. In some people, it causes problems with walking and swallowing.

One of the attractions of the SoyMeds platform, said Piller, is that MG primarily involves a problem with a single protein, allowing the company to streamline its research target. It also helps that there is a well-defined rodent model for myasthenia gravis disease that can enable functional testing of the soy-based product candidate, he added.

SoyMeds intends to study these rodents by providing control groups with “wild” soy milk and the other test groups with the company’s enhanced soy milk. Piller said the company believes it can deliver therapeutic quantities of its milk to the guts of the study animals.

“This grant will enable us to start looking at the stability of our lead transgenic soybean, and to look at capsulation for oral administration,” said Piller. “That’s kind of getting us on a pathway for possible safety trials.

“Successful completion of these studies will address some of the most important regulatory hurdles for approval of soy-based concentrates containing this novel fusion protein. The company is especially excited about the potential of this project as the technology has implication for other autoimmune diseases.”

SoyMeds employs five people at the lab it leases from the Charlotte Research Institute.

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