Five-hundred meters underwater in the south Pacific, a marine sponge contains a compound with unique anti-cancer properties. The only problem is supply. The sponge is not quite easily accessible, and when it is found, it typically doesn’t yield enough material to study.

That’s why Zhendong Jin, Ph.D., UI professor of medicinal and natural products chemistry, came up with a solution. He created a truncated version of the molecule in the lab that retained all the biological activity of its natural counter-part. The simplified molecule is easier to make, and with GAP funding awarded by the University of Iowa last year, Jin was able to make more than 200 milligrams.

“We are the only source of supply besides the sponge,” Jin said. “That’s something we’re proud of.”

Since the compound is a new molecule, the drug will be the first of its kind when it advances to clinical trials.

This year, Jin received GAP funding once again, which will help fortify and extend the provisional patent filed with the UI Research Foundation (UIRF) for the molecular structure.

In January 2014, Jin decided to form his own company, InnoBioPharma, LLC, to license his discoveries from the university. He has several other compounds in the lab he plans to push into the clinical stage in the future.

“For me, I need a platform,” Jin said. “If I only had one compound, I’d just let UIRF license it. But right now we have two and we’re going to have more.”

Jin has always been interested in synthetic chemistry and making molecules, but he wants to make molecules that are useful.

“It’s not just for the fun of it,” Jin said. “I want to make things that can save people’s lives.”

Drug discovery is a risky, often expensive business, but Jin believes he and his team truly have something promising in hand.

He said he is extremely grateful to the UIRF and UI Ventures, both of which have given welcome instruction, ideas, and encouragement. Jin also attended the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s Venture School last year.

“We are newcomers, and there is a lot to learn, but there are a lot of resources on this campus,” Jin said. “It’s truly wonderful.”

The University of Iowa Research Foundation (UIRF) is a 501C3 corporation that commercializes UI-developed technologies and inventions through licensing and new venture formation, and manages the subsequent revenue stream. The UIRF’s primary functions include identifying and developing new ventures, finding partners for commercializing and intellectual property services. More at https://research.uiowa.edu/uirf/

The UI Ventures program assists university inventors in creating new ventures based on their research. UI Ventures provides education and mentoring to advance entrepreneurs and emerging growth companies by linking them with the capital, talent and other critical resources they need for success. More at http://uiventures.uiowa.edu/

Venture School is a six-week training program created by the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center designed to accelerate the startup process while increasing participants’ chance for success. More at http://www.iowajpec.org/entrepreneur-support/venture-school/

To view all FY15 GAP awardees, visit http://uiventures.uiowa.edu/news/ui-awards-gap-funding-11-faculty-innovators

By Anne Easker