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Welcome to another edition of our Sponsor Atlas series, which focuses on startups and young pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that are in early stages or stealth mode. In the next edition of Sponsor Atlas: Discovering Biotech Startups, we’re looking at Apricity Therapeutics, exploring the current affairs and future orientation of this emerging San Francisco - based stealth biotech startup. To accomplish this, we will give a business overview of their current operations, summarize their outsourcing needs, map out their development goals and decision-makers, and highlight their current strategies for capturing innovation. If you haven’t already read our other blogs on new biotech startups, be sure to check them out here.
Apricity Therapeutics, Inc. is a stealth biotech startup developing safe and effective treatments for pediatric orphan cancers, targeted platinum drug therapies for brain tumors, and autoimmune diseases. Their major goal is to exploit influx transporters to enhance the efficacy and reduce the toxicity of drugs. Cancer chemotherapy is the pharmacologic class of drugs that derives the greatest benefit from exploitation of influx transporters. Their primary focus is to target marketed anticancer drugs with narrow therapeutic indices to highly expressed influx transporters on cancer cell membranes. 
Apricity Therapeutics, Inc. does not currently have any registered trademarks or even an operating website, so we had to do some digging of our own to gather clues about their research and potential products. The business was registered in Delaware as a C-Corp with a filing date on 1/22/2013. Their principal place of business, as noted on an online business entity search, is located at 67 Jennings Lane, Atherton, CA 94027, as well as being listed as a resident with the University of California’s QB3 accelerator facility.
QB3 is the University of California’s accelerator hub for innovation and entrepreneurship specifically for life sciences startups. The institute supports UC researchers and empowers Bay Area entrepreneurs to launch startup companies and partner with the biotech industry. With five incubators, multiple locations, two seed-stage venture capital firms, and a special initiative in medical devices, through the UCSF Rosenman Institute, QB3 helps early biotech startups create high-value jobs and brings over $750 million into the Bay Area each year. Apricity Therapeutics primarily operates at the QB3 facility, and our current estimates show they generate $93,645 in annual revenues, and employ approximately 2-4 people at this location.
The information on the outsourcing needs of Apricity is few and far between, but their recent NIH award and multiple past SBIR grants are a very good indicator that Apricity has a solid research platform with substantial capital to spend on outsourcing activities. This company is still early in the development stage and they will be working through the usual steps for a while before reaching the IND stage with potential products. During stealth mode, Apricity has received one NIH award and four SBIR grants totaling a little over $1 million in funding for their current research pipeline. So far the company has done a very good job of staying under the radar, especially with that amount of research and grant funding.
Apricity was awarded an NIH grant of $223,334 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in May 2019. This grant is to further the research of developing a transporter platform technology for discovery of drugs to treat autoimmune disease. They were also awarded multiple Phase 1 SBIR grants over the past few years, including $225,000 on 5/25/2017 for development of a pharmacoprotector for platinum toxicities, $216,990 on 9/18/2016 for development of transporter targeted platinum drugs for glioblastoma, $190,000 on 4/16/2014 for development of transporter targeted platinum drugs for pediatric tumors, and $172,738 on 9/25/2012 for development of transporter targeted platinum drugs for neuroblastoma. Apricity has already received all of these awards to further their research efforts, and with that amount of grant funding to work with, we believe they are in a great position to outsource a lot of their downstream development work.
There isn’t much online information about Apricity’s actual outsourcing needs, but with a large amount of early research they’re currently exploring at this point in time, we believe they could use assistance from service providers in almost every step of their development pipeline. If your team has experience with development of platinum-based therapeutics, preclinical services and animal models targeting multiple types of cancer, or research experience in profiling activity in tumor, glioblastoma, or neuroblastoma microenvironments for novel therapeutics applications, Apricity should definitely be on your contact list, and you should be connecting with them for upcoming work in the near future!
Apricity’s Pipeline and R&D Focus
The current focus of Apricity’s pipeline will be optimizing potential drug candidates from all of this funded research above and launching successful clinical trials while building strategic relationships with outsourcing partners. The research team at Apricity is working on 5 major areas of research from their grant funding pipeline. Using their transporter targeting platform, they are working on the discovery of transporter-based drugs to treat multiple conditions, including autoimmune disorders, pharmacoprotectors for platinum-based drug toxicities, and platinum-based drugs for glioblastoma, neuroblastoma, and even pediatric tumors. Let’s take a look at some of their research in detail, starting with the development of a transporter platform technology for discovery of drugs to treat autoimmune disease.
One of the long term goals of Apricity Therapeutics is to target pharmacological transporters in the Solute Carrier superfamily (SLC) to treat diseases for which there are no available pharmacological therapies or where current therapies are inadequate, such as for autoimmunity conditions. Autoimmune disease is a debilitating health problem worldwide as the human immune system becomes hyperactive and wreaks havoc on individuals' bodies. Unfortunately, there is no effective drug treatment for many autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease. The research from this grant will lead to the discovery of new drugs, and this innovative project is the first to discover small molecules that target a family of SLC transporters and that can be developed as therapies for autoimmune diseases. 
A second major area of research for Apricity is the development of pharmacoprotectors for platinum-based drug toxicities. Chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat cancer are among the most toxic of all prescription drugs. This research project is aimed at developing a safe new drug that can be given together with highly toxic chemotherapeutic agents to reduce their toxicities. The new drug would prevent accumulation of the chemotherapeutic drugs in body tissues associated with toxicity such as the kidney and the ear. 
The third area of awarded R&D for Apricity is the development of a transporter targeted platinum drug for glioblastoma. This research focuses on developing a new medicine for the treatment of life threatening brain tumors also known as glioblastoma. If successful, this research will lead to the development of a highly effective drug that is targeted to glioblastoma and designed to enter the brain. The development of this medication will make an enormous contribution to the treatment of one of the most aggressive solid tumors in adults. 
The next major area of research is the development of transporter targeted platinum drugs for pediatric tumors. Childhood cancers remain a leading cause of death in children between 1 and 14 years of age. Of the childhood cancers, solid tumors are among the least curable. The goal of the proposed Phase I studies will be to develop targeted anti-cancer platinum analogs to treat multiple types of childhood tumors. Cisplatin, a first generation platinum analog, together with other drugs are used in the treatment of these solid tumors. However, cisplatin is highly toxic and causes irreversible kidney damage and hearing loss, which is especially devastating in children because it results in lifelong difficulties in communication and learning. 
The last area of Apricity’s awarded research is the development of transporter targeted platinum drugs for neuroblastoma. This proposed research will lead to the development of a new medicine for the treatment of a life - threatening solid tumor in children, specifically neuroblastoma. If successful, this research will lead to the development of a highly effective drug with fewer side effects and in particular, a drug that will not cause deafness, a common side effect of current therapies. The development of this medication will make an enormous contribution to the treatment of the most common solid tumor in children. 
Some of the ways business development teams can get their foot in the door at this early stage would be to provide support in the following areas: Bioanalytical method development, method validation, and analytical testing with experience in platinum-based therapeutics such as cisplatin, preclinical development including in vitro, in vivo, and animal model development for their early studies, as well as CRO services that are heavily focused on autoimmune disease and cancer research, all would be a huge plus for Apricity Therapeutics at this time.
- Dr. Kathleen Giacomini - Co-founder of Apricity Therapeutics, is a Professor in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at UCSF. She was chair of the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences between 2000 and 2014. In the late 2000s, she chaired the NIH Pharmacogenomics Research Network (PGRN), and is now Co-Principal Investigator of the NIH PGRN Hub. She is also the Co-Principal Investigator of the UCSF-Stanford Center of Excellence in Regulatory Sciences and Innovation (CERSI), a major center funded by the FDA with the goal of advancing scientific research and education related to the safe and effective use of medical products. She received her Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from the State University of New York at Buffalo and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University. Dr. Giacomini is considered a leader in the field of membrane transporters. She and her group discovered and functionally characterized over 100 transporter polymorphisms, identifying both gain of function and loss of function variants that may lead to variation in drug response. 
- Dr. Ethan Geier - Co-founder of Apricity Therapeutics, Ethan graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology and earned a Ph.D. in 2013 from the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at the UCSF. His dissertation work focused on characterizing how membrane transporter proteins influence drug penetration across the blood-brain barrier. After graduate school, Dr. Geier co-founded Apricity Therapeutics with Dr. Giacomini. 
With a substantial amount of grant funding, significant progress in scientific benchwork, and deep technical backgrounds from their management, we believe that Apricity Therapeutics will do very well in their early-stage developments and clinical trial studies. The development of their innovative transporter platform technology for discovery of drugs to treat multiple conditions, if successful, will become a major breakthrough in the field of medicine. As principal investigator of the NIH-funded Pharmacogenomics of Membrane Transporters project, Dr. Kathy Giacomini is leading an effort to determine the clinical implications of specific genetic variants in over 100 membrane transporters. Project ventures, ranging from basic discovery to clinical studies, have demonstrated that common variants of membrane transporters contribute to differences in drug response in ethnically diverse populations. Ultimately, these studies will increase our knowledge of the genetic basis underlying drug response, and will contribute to advancing the era of personalized medicine. Furthermore, our studies will elucidate the genetic mechanisms of decreased drug response and, ultimately, contribute to improving drug design for safe and effective treatments of subgroups of patients who do not respond to standard treatments. 
Apricity thinks their research in using transporters as therapeutic targets is just the beginning. In a recent interview, Dr. Giacomini said “The use of transporters as therapeutic targets is an interesting new field of study. In 2015, my colleagues and I published an article in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery describing more than 80 transporters that have mutations in more than 100 Mendelian diseases. Each one of these mutations could be targeted to treat the disease. Transporters therefore represent a host of new therapeutic targets for treating rare diseases.”
Keeping all of this innovative research in mind we think that Apricity Therapeutics is on track to create some major breakthroughs in the industry over the next few years. Be sure to keep them on your contact list and look out for our next edition in this series coming soon.
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