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Calgary’s Next Economy: AnthoBio’s flower power could help MS patients

In the tropics, there’s a flower with unique compounds that have shown to limit iron deposits in the brain.

Iron deposits are typically found in patients with neurological disorders – including Multiple Sclerosis.

The discovery came about through research at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute, under the direction of Dr. V. Wee Yong. The research has been ongoing to find more therapeutic options for MS patients. Over the past decade, that’s led to discoveries on the repurposing of generic medications to help patients.

He began looking for different neuroprotective agents. That’s when a particular tropical flower was identified that produced antioxidants and other protective agents. The flower used those compounds to protect itself against the intense ultraviolet rays found in warmer regions.

That work led to a spin-off biotech company called AnthoBio. 

Founder Lin Tang said they’ve taken extracts from some of these flowers and tested human cultures (not actual humans) in petri dishes. They’ve also tested the compound on animals that are mimicking MS symptoms.

“When we set those animals with the flower extracts… we see a protective effect,” said Tang.

The tested group performed very well against a controlled group, Tang said.

Research spin-off

Tang said universities are increasingly risk averse when it comes to some research and even the licensing of technologies.  Her connection to the work was initially as an innovation manager. She was trying to license the tech to industry partners, but having difficulty doing so.

“There’s always a great challenge of translating research or even licensing technology out from the university to industry because they always ask to de-risk that as much as we can when they take it over, so it’s well-validated and well-studied,” she said.

The research group didn’t have the resources to do the kind of validation initially needed.

That’s when they decided to take it outside the university and fill that gap themselves.

“If we can bring this product to the market that’s fantastic,” Tang said.

“If we can push it forward to a point where they say ‘we’re going to take over to make this into a product,’ that would be a successful as well.”

After receiving a life sciences scholar fellowship, it spurred the company’s launch.

Flower replication?

This flower is found in the tropics. (Not being named at this time for proprietary reasons.)

While it’s possible to find a way to grow it in Canada, it would require extensive testing of the soil type where the flower grows and replication of that soil content and climate conditions. They also need to rule out the appearance of the compound in conditions of heavier rain or drought.

“We’re trying to find a way to have what we call the fingerprinting, so that we’ll be able to mainly look at the quality and also the safety profile of those different batches,” said Tang.

Also, it would be difficult to synthesize the neuroprotective agent in a lab, Tang said.

“Actually, it’s not one single compound,” she said.

“There are several compounds that are having synergistic actions together.”

Setting up for the biz to bloom

What they’ve learned working through Platform Calgary’s Junction program is the need to validate the value proposition for the flower extract as a treatment option.

They’d done one patient study group with roughly 10 patients. Tang said they have to go back and see how they measure the value to patients.

“Did my symptoms get relief or I don’t have a flare ups in a year,” Tang said.

“How do you measure that value? It’s probably different from how we measure that value.”

It was really important to hear different perspectives on turning it into a direct to consumer product, Tang said.

The goal in the next year is to recruit patients for a clinical study. After that, it’s three years before Health Canada will approve a natural health product, Tang said.

They currently have a patent application for the technology.