Eboo Picked for Fox Foundation Program
By Susan Poulos, NCBiotech Writer
The initiative promotes collaboration between awardees and industry groups as the Foundation aims to move promising projects in Parkinson’s research through the drug development pipeline.
Through the 2013 MJFF grant of nearly $1.5 million, EPI is developing a unique series of compounds with the potential to alleviate Parkinson’s disease (PD) symptoms and mitigate the motor complications (dyskinesia) related to dopamine replacement therapy, the primary drug currently being used to treat PD.
New Grants Open for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Research
Combining efforts to look at common factors involved in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Alzheimer’s Association, and The W. Garfield Weston Foundation of Canada recently announced the offering of joint research grants to help discover the similarities and differences between these neurodegenerative diseases. READ MORE
In the fall of 2013, the EPI team joined other leaders in Parkinson’s research and grant recipients at a MJFF conference. “We had great feedback because of our investigation into the many aspects of PD symptom control” said Eboo Versi, M.D., Ph.D., founder and chairman of EPI. “We left that meeting feeling optimistic that with this grant and the help of the Foundation, we’ll be able to make significant advances in the treatment of PD.”
Versi invited to join panel
This January at the Biotech Showcase meeting in San Francisco, MJFF sponsored a panel discussion on future advances in PD. Versi was invited to be a panel member along with leaders of other companies. “It was a very exciting panel discussion” Versi said, ”I came away thinking that with all this innovative research and significant interest from the National Institutes of Health, we are bound to have new therapies in the near future.” At the same meeting, Jonathon Holt, Ph.D., EPI’s chief scientific officer, presented the company’s latest data and this presentation received significant interest from funders who were in the audience.
“Dopamine replacement therapy has the side effect of involuntary, ballistic muscle movements,” Versi explained. “After 10 years on this drug, 90 percent of patients will have these symptoms. Thanks to the support of the MJFF through a research grant, we’re developing delta agonist / mu antagonist (DAMA) compounds which have a unique dual-target mechanism of action with the potential to both improve PD symptoms and also control these debilitating motor fluctuations.”
Versi said if this drug could be used for early stage PD, dyskinesia would be postponed – and late-stage dyskinesia could be counteracted. In other words, this treatment could be for early and late PD.
NC Biotech cultivates companies, forges connections
Before the creation of EPI, Versi approached Peter Ginsberg, vice president of Business & Technology Development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “Peter and Joe Nixon, senior director, business development at NC Biotech, saw in our library of compounds a potential novel therapy that could make a significant impact on people’s lives,” Versi said. “When we wanted to start the company, we were literally in the nuclear winter of funding – there was nothing available. It costs money to start a company – legal, accounting, etc.”
NC Biotech played a critical role in moving EPI from a concept to a company. Versi recalled, “They provided resources, introduced us to people, lawyers, accountants and business plan writers through the use of NCBiotech’s BATON network of support companies. They gave us a loan and the resources to get us going, and literally gave us a foundation on which to build.” EPI had the opportunity to meet a Michael J. Fox Foundation representative at an NCBiotech-led Biotech Forum event in 2011 and advanced its discussions with the foundation at the 2013 Southeast Venture Philanthropy Summit organized by NCBiotech.
Personal commitment drives discovery
“My commitment to finding help for people with PD is personal,” said Versi. “My wife’s uncle was diagnosed with the disease and in a very short time we witnessed the complete destruction of a highly successful life and a crushing blow for the family. Everybody knows someone who has a neurodegenerative disease – Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and others. That’s why EPI is so keen to find new medicines for these patients. The world is desperate for new therapies as people are living longer and the prevalence of these diseases continues to increase.”
Risking it all to fulfill a passion
Versi agrees with international management guru Peter Drucker, who said that being an entrepreneur is gut-wrenchingly difficult. “We saw this unmet medical need and faced the obstacle of getting funding. I took a leap of faith, a huge risk. The only thing that sustained me was the feeling that this work is terribly important and I must go for it. Thankfully, I have a supportive family and am in a stable personal situation. In addition, I am surrounded by colleagues with the brains and expertise to help fulfill this dream. And at the center of it all is the NCBiotech Center. They believed in us.”
What’s on the horizon for EPI? “Our products have the potential to positively impact other diseases, including depression and heart disease. However, in the near future, we’ll continue focusing on advancing our Parkinson’s disease compounds,” he added.
“With a very small investment, NCBiotech got a great return for the state of North Carolina. They are able to bring new business into the state, which creates new jobs and potentially new revenue. Their work makes North Carolina richer,” Versi said.