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This branch of our Sponsor Atlas series focuses on 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 Vitalex Biosciences, exploring the current affairs and future orientation of this emerging California - based stealth biotech company. 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.
Vitalex Biosciences, LLC is a stealth biotech startup currently focused on immunotherapy and diagnostics based on the Mucorales CotH protein, and developing passive vaccines that can be administered to patients with a deadly condition called mucormycosis. Mucormycosis is an infection caused by any of several related molds, causing pain, fever, and sometimes cough and can destroy structures in the face.
Vitalex Biosciences does not currently have any registered trademarks or operating website, so we had to do some exploring on our own to gather clues about their research and potential products. Vitalex’s business registration date was 2/19/2013, and their principal place of business, as noted on the California entity search website, is located at 2 Conifer, Irvine, CA 92620, which is actually a residential building. After some more digging we found that Vitalex’s principal owner, Dr. Ashraf Ibrahim, is also a resident researcher at LA Biomed, an incubator of innovation with a global reach and a 66-year reputation of improving and saving lives. LA Biomed is a Southern California-based research institute and biotech cluster with over 100 principal investigators working on over 600 research studies, including therapies for multiple orphan diseases. There is a good chance that Vitalex is performing its research and development activities at the LA Biomed facility, located at 1124 W Carson St, Torrance, CA 90502.
During stealth mode, Vitalex has received 2 SBIR grants totaling over $450,000 in funding for their current research. They were awarded a Phase 1 SBIR grant of $151,113 on 2/09/15 for researching rapid diagnostics for Mucormycosis. The second and most recent award was a Phase 1 SBIR grant of $300,000 in 2018 for Vitalex’s research of humanized monoclonal antibodies to treat mucormycosis. Vitalex has already received these awards to further their research efforts, and with that amount of funding to work with, we believe they are in a decent position to outsource some of their downstream development and manufacturing work in the near future.
Vitalex Biosciences has been operating in stealth mode for approximately 6 years with an annual revenue estimate of $67,031, and employs approximately 1 - 3 people. Even though Vitalex has been under the radar for several years and have received a substantial amount of SBIR grant funding, they are still considered a very early startup and open to the possibility of outsourcing activities. Even though there isn’t much online information about Vitalex’s outsourcing needs, with the amount of early research they’re currently exploring at this point in time, we believe they could use assistance from outsourced services in almost every step of their drug development process. If your team has experience with monoclonal and polyclonal antibody research, animal model development and preclinical services, or even large molecule clinical trial supplies, Vitalex should definitely be on your contact list, and you should be connecting with them for upcoming work in the near future.
- Dr. Ashraf S Ibrahim - Co-founder and CEO of Vitalex Biosciences, earned undergraduate degrees in biochemistry and microbiology from the University of Kuwait, and a Ph.D. in microbial physiology from the Loughborough University of Technology in England. He completed a fellowship in molecular mycological pathogenesis at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, and is a Professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School at UCLA. His research advances the understanding of pathogenic mechanisms and virulence factors of fungal and bacterial pathogens, and on translating this knowledge into novel strategies to combat infection. Dr. Ibrahim holds several research grants, including NIH and industry-sponsored projects. His program to study the role of iron uptake in the pathogenesis of mucormycosis sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is leading the way to new therapies for this often fatal infection. Dr. Ibrahim has co-authored over 80 peer-reviewed research papers and serves as reviewer for peer-reviewed journals. 
- Tuomas Holmberg - Co-founder at Vitalex Biosciences, is a serial entrepreneur with diverse experience managing and mentoring companies in early stages of development. Mr. Holmberg has played key roles in developing and managing investor and government relationships and in building multiple biotech startups from the ground up. Tuomas received his MBA from the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business, and received his Bachelor of Science in Applied Physics from Caltech.
Vitalex’s Pipeline and R&D Focus
Vitalex Biosciences is developing monoclonal antibodies and diagnostics against drug resistant fungal and bacterial pathogens. The lead monoclonal antibodies target infections caused by species of Mucorales, which are fungi that cause infections with unacceptably high mortality and Acinetobacter baumannii, a multi-drug resistant bacteria that continues to develop new strategies to evade even the most advanced antibiotics. Both of these monoclonal antibodies would qualify for orphan designations.
In a recent study, researchers from the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed) and Vitalex Biosciences helped lead an experiment that successfully immunized mice against Mucormycosis. Dr. Ashraf Ibrahim of LA BioMed and the founder of Vitalex Biosciences led a team of 12-scientists that developed polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies against conserved peptide regions of one protein, CotH3, which is universally present in Mucorales. CotH3 protein allows the fungus to invade mouse/human cells to cause infection. A 30-µg dose of one of the monoclonal antibodies, C2, significantly reduced mortality in neutropenic or diabetic mice infected with any of the organisms that cause Mucormycosis. Even more impressively, those treated with the C2 antibody combined with a common antifungal drug almost completely survived the infection and appeared healthy at the termination of the study, with no residual fungi found in their lungs or brains. 
The researchers at Vitalex and LA Biomed believe this could lead to the development of life-saving immunotherapies for humans at risk of contracting Mucormycosis. The next steps to further Vitalex’s research should include a proof-of-concept study in affected patients, likely conducted in a country known to have higher incidents of Mucormycosis, such as India. The current focus of Vitalex’s pipeline will be optimizing these types of drug candidates and launching successful clinical trials while building strategic relationships with outsourcing partners.
It is already known that speed is essential in treating deadly Mucormycosis fungal infections, but a quick diagnosis is very difficult because no routine blood test currently exist. The grants awarded to Vitalex will fund research to develop a diagnosis for this rare fungal infection that strikes about 2,000 people in the U.S. every year and kills more than half of them. Dr. Ibrahim, the lead investigator of this research at Vitalex Biosciences, will be conducting the studies to develop a rapid method for diagnosing Mucormycosis. “We founded Vitalex to translate the technologies developed in the laboratory at LA BioMed to target diseases, such as Mucormycosis, and multidrug resistant bacteria, such as Acinetobacter baumannii,” Dr. Ibrahim said. “Our focus at Vitalex is to develop rapid diagnostics against Mucormycosis and immunotherapies against Mucormycosis and Acinetobacter infections. This grant to Vitalex and LA BioMed will help us develop diagnostics for Mucormycosis so that physicians can move more quickly to try to halt the progression of this deadly infection.”  Mucormycosis is a rare infection caused by fungi typically found in the soil and in decaying organic matter, including leaves and rotten wood. The infections are more common among people with compromised immune systems, including those with uncontrolled diabetes and cancer conditions. Those who do survive are usually severely disfigured by the surgical removal of tissue to halt the progression of the deadly infection. We believe that Vitalex is on the path to create some breakthrough therapeutics in the complete treatment of Mucormycosis in the near future.
How can I find new biotech startups?
If you would like a simple solution for keeping an eye on drug sponsor companies, like Vitalex Biosciences, without relying on a database and generic lists of leads each week, we at Zymewire are here to help. Reach out today, and stay tuned for the next installment of the Sponsor Atlas: Discovering new Biotechs. If you enjoy these articles, please feel free to give them a share through the social links below!