The Innovation and Technology Commission of the Hong Kong government has awarded Pangu BioPharma, the Hong Kong subsidiary of aTyr Pharma, a second grant to fund research it is performing in collaboration with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). The Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF) provides matching funds over the next 18 months to expand Pangu's successful work in the identification and characterization of naturally occurring splice variants of human tRNA synthetases. Research at Pangu BioPharma and aTyr Pharma showed that these naturally occurring splice variants result in resected proteins ("resectins") that have functions distinct from the normal protein synthesis activities associated with tRNA synthetases. These resectins perform a variety of extracellular signaling functions essential for normal human biology, and have the potential to be used as biotherapeutics in a variety of disease settings, including immunological, hematopoietic, neurological disorders, and inflammatory conditions. The research at Pangu BioPharma is focused on identifying and characterizing new examples of the tRNA synthetases resectins arising from alternative splicing events, as well as on identifying their biological activities and potential applications as novel biotherapeutics. The previous 18 month ITF award to Pangu BioPharma led to the building of a strong proprietary portfolio of novel compositions for the treatment of the aforementioned diseases.
Pangu BioPharma is the result of an innovative partnership between aTyr Pharma and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Dr. James Cai, President of Pangu BioPharma, notes that "Support from Hong Kong's government and universities are important elements to attract exciting drug discovery and development companies to make Hong Kong a leader in the biotechnology industry. Funding from Hong Kong's Innovation and Technology Commission to support efforts such as ours is proof that Hong Kong is committed to building a strong biotechnology center in China."
A visiting scholar at the Institute of Advanced Science at HKUST, Professor Paul Schimmel of The Scripps Research Institute and co-founder of aTyr Pharma as well as Pangu BioPharma, was the driver in building the partnership between aTyr Pharma and HKUST. A world renowned expert on tRNA synthetases, Paul Schimmel has also been the co-founder or founding director of numerous successful biotechnology companies, including Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, Alnylam, Repligen Corporation, Alkermes, Inc., Momenta Pharmaceuticals and Cubist Pharmaceuticals, which were taken public on the NASDAQ and are well established as companies that develop and market new medicines. "This is an exciting time to have a biotechnology endeavor in Hong Kong. The government and university system in Hong Kong have a powerful vision to translate research into a thriving biotechnology industry that connects to China and the rest of Asia. aTyr Pharma and Pangu BioPharma are at the forefront of this effort and are pleased to have the ITC and HKUST as partners. We particularly value the contributions of Professors Mingjie Zhang and Nancy Ip of the Biochemistry Department at HKUST, Angelina Yee of the IAS, and Matthew Yuen of HKUST's Research and Development group," says Professor Schimmel.
According to Jeff Watkins, CEO of aTyr Pharma, "Pangu BioPharma is the model for a successful collaboration of government, university and industry partnership. With the support of HKUST and funding from the ITC, we have attracted a highly skilled group of scientists and established a well equipped lab at HKUST using the latest techniques, such as next generation sequencing. The intellectual property being generated by Pangu BioPharma continues to reinforce our preeminence in the field of resectin biology and their therapeutic applications."