Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Escape Therapeutics: The Latest Business to Win a CIRM Grant

A firm founded by a part-time, but award-winning poet was the only company to receive a grant in last week's round from the $3 billion California stem cell agency.

The firm is Escape Therapeutics of Palo Alto, Ca. The principal investigator on the $1.5 million CIRM grant is Basil Hantash(see photo), founder of the firm and an Illinois native who held a biodesign fellowship in 2006-07 at Stanford.

Only one other company filed an application in the $25 million immunology round, originally budgeted for $30 million. That firm's name was withheld by CIRM, which is their general policy concerning unsuccessful applicants.

CIRM reviewers gave Hantash's application a 72 score. The review summary cited some weakneses in the application, but said it was “worthwhile and achievable.”  In the words of the reviewers, the research was “well designed, logical and an interesting approach to pursue.”

Founded in 2006, Escape does not have a Web site. But, according to a company document provided by Hantash, Escape is an early stage, privately held biotech firm “focused on accelerating the commercial availability of allogeneic stem cell therapies by solving the key translational hurdle preventing their clinical utility – immune mismatch and subsequent donor rejection.”

The information continued,
"Invented by Escape’s founder Dr. Hantash while at Stanford University, the company’s platform technology represents a significant potential breakthrough that can revolutionize the treatment of blood-borne disorders such as leukemia, type I diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. Escape’s innovative technology allows for the creation of the world’s first allogeneic, 'off-the-shelf' therapy capable of being used in any patient irrespective of their HLA profile."
In addition to the last week's grant, searches on the Web showed that Escape has other ties to CIRM. It is one of four internship sites for a CIRM training program run by San Jose State University. Asked for comment, Hantash said,
"Escape focuses the training process on translational stem cell research skills, rather than pure academic basic science research. Our interns were the first to publish out of all the interns in the program, so we feel they gain commercialization experience while retaining the rigor of academics. This is a marriage of a Stanford-like focus on entrepreneurship and an industry eye on developing life-saving products to alleviate patient suffering."
Hantash was a partner from 2007 to 2009 at Proteus Venture Partners, a San Francisco Bay Area investment and advisory firm focusing on regenerative medicine. Proteus was heavily involved in CIRM proceedings concerning the agency's $500 million biotech loan effort. Hantash said his responsibilities included fund-raising and deal sourcing and evaluation.

A number of references on the Internet refer to Hantash as an award-winning poet. We asked him to provide a sample of his work. It can be found here.

(Photo of Hantash from Proteus web site)

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