From left: UofL's Dr. Marty O'Toole, Qualigen CEO Michael Poirier, and UofL's Dr. Paula Bates.
From left: UofL's Dr. Marty O'Toole, Qualigen CEO Michael Poirier, and UofL's Dr. Paula Bates.

California-based medical device company, Qualigen Inc., has licensed a drug technology developed at the University of Louisville that uses tiny, DNA-coated gold nanoparticles to target cancer.

The technology, dubbed “ALAN” (for Aptamer-Linked Au Nanoparticles), has shown promise as an agent for radio-sensitizing and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast, as well as for the treatment of many forms of cancer. 

In exchange for the technology, UofL will receive cash payments on the achievement of certain milestones and royalties on future sales, as well as potential equity in the company. Qualigen also has a sponsored research agreement with UofL for further development. 

“We have very high hopes that working together, with the strengths that we have at Qualigen and what UofL has here with the research center, that we can do something good going forward,” said Michael Poirier, the company’s president and CEO.

UofL’s Dr. Paula Bates, who developed the base technology, said this drug is more targeted than many currently available cancer treatments. Those treatments may also harm healthy, non-cancerous tissue.

“The key is that the ALAN technology can kill cancer cells, but not normal cells,” said Bates, a professor of medicine.

The aptamer itself has been previously tested in more than 100 patients and has had no evidence of severe side effects. At least seven of those patients either saw their cancers disappear or shrink substantially. 

In the new ALAN technology, the aptamer is attached to gold, which should make it more durable and active than the original formulation. The new ALAN formulation is expected to enter clinical trials by 2020.

Bates worked with a team of researchers from the UofL School of Medicine and J.B. Speed School of Engineering on development. That team included Drs. Kyung Kang, Tariq Malik and Marty O’Toole.

“Together, we came up with a technology that has a lot of promise,” said O’Toole, an assistant professor of bioengineering. “It’s rewarding to know our work could really help people.”

The technology was developed with support from the university’s robust innovation programs, including the Coulter Translational Partnership and ExCITE, a National Institutes of Health Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (REACH), as well as a Kentucky Commercialization Fund grant. 

The UofL Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) protected the intellectual property and helped develop the commercial partnership with Qualigen.

“We are excited to work with Qualigen on the product development of our nanoparticle-based drug to fight cancer,” said Dr. Allen Morris, the office’s director. “This is more than just a license — it’s a collaboration.”