By Briana Prosser
MADISON — Researchers at C5.6 Technologies have recently come across a possible treatment for cystic fibrosis sufferers across the globe, potentially changing the way patients live with the chronic and debilitating disease.
The research company was founded in 2006 with an initial focus of converting biomass into five and six carbon sugars — hence its name, C5.6 Technologies. Since then, C5.6 has developed and commercialized 24 enzyme products called CAZymes through its reagent partner, Lucigen. Some of the enzymes have proven to work well for scientific processes, and to the company’s surprise, for treatment in cystic fibrosis.
Phil Brumm, chief scientific officer at C5.6 and the man behind the cystic fibrosis treatment discovery, hinted that some of the enzymes they commercialized may work on breaking down biofilms, the culprit in more than 80 percent of microbial infections in the body and of many chronic diseases.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited, chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of those infected. The body produces unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and obstructs the pancreas of patients. The mucus present is often a perfect home for pathogens to take root and form biofilms.
Once a biofilm is formed it is difficult to eradicate and antibiotics fail to break them down, which is why the disease is so difficult to treat. Brumm thought that if the company’s product could rip up the biofilm, the disease might be open to other treatments.
Those suffering from cystic fibrosis will be glad to learn Brumm was correct in his theory. Enzymes commercialized by C5.6 have recently been found to clear biofilms associated with the disease, allowing the quality and duration of life of cystis fibrosis patients to be dramatically improved.
According to C5.6 CEO David Mead, biofilm infections are about a $30 billion per year medical problem.
“Wherever there’s water there’s biofilms. You get your teeth cleaned and there’s biofilm,” Mead said. “They are a major threat to human health and well-being with significant economic and societal costs.”
However, the company is having a difficult time raising funds for the research.
“It’s hard to raise money for protein drug therapy in Madison,” he said. “You almost have to be one in a billion. It’s not a very good environment for drug development.”
No cure is currently available for cystic fibrosis and current drug therapies only reduce the symptoms of the disease. This makes the discovery a breakthrough for C5.6 and cystic fibrosis sufferers alike. There are about 70,000 people worldwide with the disease.
C5.6 Technologies will present to potential investors at the Wisconsin Early State Symposium Nov. 13-14. For more information and to register for the conference, go to http://www.wisearlystage.com/.
The company is seeking $1.2 million from outside investors, which will allow it to enter in a preclinical program over the next three years. If successful, C5.6 will sell the therapeutic treatment to drug companies, which are in a position to market the treatment.
The CAZymes discovered at C5.6 Technologies have already shown great commercial potential, Brumm and Mead said, and the biofilm degrading discovery is one of many that could take the company to a new and profitable level.
— Prosser is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.