The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute has awarded a five-year, $1.7 million grant to the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center to advance the development of new, exosome-based technology that empowers the body’s own natural defenses to fight cancer.

Exovita Biosciences, Inc., a company formed by the New Mexico Startup Factory, holds the option to an exclusive, worldwide license for the patent-pending technology developed by Kristina Antonia Trujillo, PhD, a research assistant professor in UNM’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Exovita executed a Sponsored Research Agreement in February 2015 with UNM. The agreement will fund the development of the exosome-based technology as a therapeutic, while the NIH grant will fund the mechanistic investigation of how the exosomes exert their anti-cancer properties. The data generated through these awards will be the foundation for eventual cancer-fighting therapeutics.

Richard Larson, MD, PhD, executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for research at the Health Sciences Center, said the NIH grant validates the significant potential of exosome-based cancer therapeutics.

“Exosomes are small, fluid-filled packets that allow our cells to communicate with each other,” Larson said. “The therapeutic approach being taken by Exovita and Dr. Trujillo represents a new way of using our own natural biological process to fight cancer.”

Trujillo, the principal investigator for the NIH RO1 grant, has identified specific cells that produce exosomes, which kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Exosome-based drugs could curtail serious side effects that often accompany conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy and compromises patients’ quality of life.

John Chavez, CEO of Exovita and founder of the New Mexico Startup Factory, said the NIH funding will help accelerate the development of exosome-based cancer drugs. Exovita’s initial focus is to develop breast cancer drugs, with the goal of leveraging the resulting therapeutics to treat cancers of the pancreas, colon, prostate, and other organs.

“No two cancers are the same, which makes successful treatment of cancer challenging,” Chavez said. “Exovita’s technology is exciting because we enlist the body’s own defenses in fighting cancer tumors. These drugs will be personalized to the patient and the foundation for more effective cancer treatments and better outcomes for patients.”

About UNM Health Sciences Center

The UNM Health Sciences Center is New Mexico’s largest academic health complex, with more than 10,000 employees and a nearly $2 billion annual budget. It combines the missions of research, education, and patient care to promote the health and wellbeing of all New Mexicans. Visit www.hsc.unm.edu.

About Exovita Biosciences

New Mexico-based Exovita Biosciences is working to harness the body’s own defenses against cancer. Exovita is developing the next generation of biological cancer therapeutics by enhancing the natural defense mechanisms of exosomes. Visit www.ExovitaBiotech.com.