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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

Nynex Therapeutics, a new oncology startup, launches to target oncogenic proteins


BioMotiv, a drug development accelerator associated with The Harrington Project, and the University of Michigan have launched a new startup, Nynex Therapeutics, to develop breakthrough drugs that inhibit deubiquitinases as a novel mechanism for therapeutic intervention in multiple difficult-to-treat cancers.

Nynex’s innovative work builds on the substantial progress over the last decade in the understanding of the specific processes and enzymes that inactivate proteins responsible for both normal and abnormal cell function (i.e. “the ubiquitin-proteasome pathway”). Upregulation of proteins that confer a survival advantage is one mechanism by which cancer cells evade cell death and gain resistance to treatment. Upregulation of deubiquitinases in cancer allow their client proteins to evade ubiquitin-targeted degradation by the proteasome. Researchers at the University of Michigan have identified a method to block the deubiquitinase USP9x, resulting in targeted degradation or “loss of function” of known oncogenic proteins – including Mcl-1 – which in turn leads to induction of cell death and decreased tumor growth. Until recently, many client proteins of USP9x were considered “undruggable” targets, giving this innovative approach the potential to be a first-in-class cancer therapy.

“We are excited to partner with the founders and Michigan to launch Nynex,” said Baiju Shah, CEO of BioMotiv. “Leveraging the industry’s interest in this area, we hope to swiftly develop this innovative technology into a breakthrough therapy for multiple oncology indications.”

Nynex has exclusively licensed the intellectual property for its technology from the University of Michigan, where it was developed by a team of scientists: Moshe Talpaz, M.D., a Research Professor of Internal Medicine, Hollis Showalter, Ph.D., a Research Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and co-Director of the Vahlteich Medicinal Chemistry Core, Luke Peterson, Ph.D., an Assistant Research Scientist in Internal Medicine, and Nicholas Donato, Ph.D., a former Research Associate Professor of Internal Medicine. The work was done in collaboration with Matthew Young, Ph.D., a Research Assistant Professor of Pharmacology at University of Michigan.

The scientific founders have recently published their findings in the February edition of Nature Communications, elucidating the essential role for USP9x in melanoma through the regulation of a tumorigenic protein, Ets1, and demonstrating that inhibition of USP9x contributes to tumor growth inhibition.

“The researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a very promising pre-IND drug candidate effective in pre-clinical models of cancer,” said Kenneth Nisbet, Associate Vice President for Research at the University of Michigan’s Office of Technology Transfer.

“We are pleased to work with Nynex, which will bring additional resources and significant drug development expertise to this partnership, and we are hopeful and optimistic that their team will translate this research from the University into a powerful drug approved for the treatment of cancer.”

The scientific work at the University of Michigan was completed at Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, and funded by the Lloyd Charitable Trust, the National Institutes of Health and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS).

“After providing initial support for early development of these deubiquitinase inhibitors at the University of Michigan through our Translational Research Grant Program and Therapy Acceleration Program, the LLS is delighted to see the development of deubiquitinase inhibitors move forward,” said Lee Greenberger, Ph.D., the LLS’ Senior Vice President and Chief Science Officer.

“Further development of these compounds, ultimately leading to clinical trials, is exactly what our funding mechanisms are designed to achieve.”