Fall 2015
Biopharmaceutical Company Established as Result of Research

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Reno pharmacologists.

In Good Company: Vivian Cruz, David Maine, Dean Burkin and Ryan Wuebbles of Strykagen. Photo by Anne McMillin, APR.

Story by Anne McMillin, APR

It's a small company with a big dream to bring to market new technologies that will effectively treat muscular dystrophy.

StrykaGen, founded by School of Medicine pharmacologists Dean Burkin and Ryan Wuebbles, is a biopharmaceutical company devoted to the development of transforming therapeutics and diagnostics for life-threatening rare muscle diseases.

StrykaGen scientists currently are working on developing therapeutics for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Becker muscular dystrophy, Merosin deficient congenital muscular dystrophy and limb girdle muscular dystrophies. Their goal is to become a research-and-development biopharmaceutical company focused on discovering, developing, and commercializing advanced therapies that contribute in areas of unmet clinical needs for muscular disease stabilization.

Burkin, chief executive officer for StrykaGen and pharmacology professor, said the company was born out of promising technologies resulting from his research to identify therapies that prevent muscle damage in mouse models that have muscular dystrophy.

"The University of Nevada, Reno has filed patents and we have set up this company to develop these technologies to see if they can help patients," says Burkin.

Burkin discovered laminin-111 as a potential therapeutic for congenital muscular dystrophy. It is currently being developed for commercial use by Prothelia Inc. and Alexion Pharmaceuticals.

"My laboratory also developed other equally promising technologies for the treatment of muscular dystrophy which are now being pursued by StrykaGen located here in Reno. StrykaGen has exclusive licenses for worldwide patent pending technologies that stabilize the myomatrix and prevent muscle disease progression," he explained. These include biologic and small molecule therapeutics and microRNA therapies that target disease modifiers which have been shown to prevent muscle disease progression. The company also is developing non-invasive tests to assist in the diagnosis and prognosis of muscular dystrophy.

StrykaGen has been awarded two Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants from the National Institutes of Health totaling $450,000 to develop Galectin-1, a novel protein therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and Stryka-969, a small molecule that protects weakened muscle from further damage. StrykaGen provides additional support to the University through subcontracts that are part of the STTR grant mechanism.

"We believe that these novel therapies can be used alone or in combination with other technologies. It is likely that combination therapies will be the most effective for treating muscular dystrophy," Wuebbles said.

With the scientific discovery funded by NIH grants and strong support by Mridul Gautam, the University of Nevada, Reno's vice president of research and innovation, as well as the University's Technology Transfer Office, the goal to bring the research to market now takes steps outside of the laboratory.

"Our research discoveries have been reviewed, vetted and published, which draws the interest of biotechnology companies looking to partner with small scientific companies like us," Burkin said.

Wuebbles added that StrykaGen was founded to "validate and de-risk" the technology "so it is attractive to big companies and their funding." Any funding resulting from partnerships between large biotechnology companies and smaller scientific discovery companies will fund clinical trials of the technologies, the next step to market.

That is where David Maine, chief financial officer for StrykaGen, comes in.

"We want to partner with these large companies that specialize in bringing technology to market through clinical trials," he explained.

"If it weren't for them, these technologies and their patents would sit on the shelf and never be realized."

Oftentimes, large biotech companies have the expertise on staff for navigating the Federal Drug Administration's rules and regulations, a vital component to bringing a scientific discovery from bench to bedside.

The infusion of capital funding from a biotech partner can reduce the time to market by up to a year and help stabilize the scientific discovery company, according to Maine. In addition to helping those with muscular dystrophy, StrykaGen aims to improve the economic development of northern Nevada by contributing to the growth of a vibrant biopharmaceutical industry in the region.

With its science validated through publication, the support of its parent institution at the University and the establishment of the company itself, StrykaGen sits on the verge of being able to continue to make new discoveries, test them and bring them to market for the betterment of those with muscular dystrophy.