Boragen Lands $300,500 NIH Grant for Malaria Research


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Boragen, Inc., a boron-based discovery platform company based in the Research Triangle Park, has won a $300,500 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant for research on controlling malaria.

The grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health will accelerate the company’s collaboration with the University of California, San Francisco. The collaboration focuses on effective control for the protozoan parasite Plasmodium, the causative agent for malaria.

The project takes a two-pronged approach, starting with leveraging Boragen’s unique diverse boron-based small molecule library to identify new targets and modes of action for inhibiting Plasmodium.

CSO Tony Liu, Ph.D.
CSO Tony Liu, Ph.D.

Secondly, noting that there is a strong interplay between inflammation and most human diseases, including infectious diseases like malaria, the project is also looking for ways that could both inhibit the parasite and provide the relevant anti-inflammatory effect.

In an interview with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Tony Liu, Ph.D., Boragen’s chief scientific officer and co-founder said, “Boron has a lot of unique properties. There is no other element like it. It is quite versatile. You can change all of its chemical properties such as its geometry and charge.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria worldwide, with 435,000 deaths occurring mostly in children in Africa.

New drugs to treat malaria, ideally with unique chemical structures and mechanisms of action, are urgently needed.

Optimal antimalarials will be;

  • Orally bioavailable.

  • Capable of extended pharmacological exposure.

  • Safe for administration to children and pregnant women.

  • Rapidly active against erythrocytic malaria parasites, and ideally also be active against other life cycle stages of malaria parasites.

“Based on what we have already seen, we are optimistic about the possibility of finding a highly efficacious and safe boron-based small molecule that will exert potent antimalarial activity and fulfill necessary criteria to enable progression to antimalarial drug development,” said Dr. Philip Rosenthal, a professor in the UCSF Department of Medicine.

Liu said the company expects to develop a compound in a year or year and a half.

Boragen, founded in 2015 by world-renowned experts in boron chemistry, utilizes boron’s unique properties to design and develop novel solutions targeting needs in crop protection, animal health, and human health. It has collaborations with the University of Toronto and the University of Vermont in addition to UCSF.

Liu said its academic collaborations help Boragen find new uses for boron. “Boron chemistry has been overlooked. There is more utility for it that just needs to be uncovered.”.

Boragen was the first investment made by the Alexandria Center for AgTech - Research Triangle, in 2017. Investors participating in Boragen’s financing included AgTech Accelerator’s investment syndicate partners: Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Bayer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Elanco Animal Health, Flagship Pioneering, Hatteras Venture Partners, Mountain Group Capital, Pappas Capital and Syngenta Ventures.

Boragen has raised a total of about $16 million since its launch.

Roger Kemble, Boragen’s CEO, served a number of leadership roles for Syngenta including as president of Syngenta Biotechnology Inc.

The 16-employee company will be hiring on the heels of the new grant, Liu said.

Allan Maurer, NCBiotech Writer
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