Date: Jan 07, 2013 Source: bizjournals (
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Vivo Biosciences has inked a contract with NASA that will have the Birmingham-based biotech firm grow live tumors and hopefully fly them into space.
Vivo CEO and President Raj Singh said the contract, awarded in November, will be the first part of a three-phase project that he hopes will end in the space flight. He said his company is receiving $300,000 to complete the first phase, which will involve growing body cells into live tumors.
Vivo, born out of technology Singh developed while working as a pathology professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has made a business out of projects involving the growing of cells into small organs.
Singh said the work his company has done largely aims to aid drug manufacturers test the efficacy of their products before they go out for clinical trial. That way drug companies can save costs by getting some insight on how well their products work on a live subject, he said.
Singh said Vivo is collaborating with a NASA partner called Bio Serve on the project. The remaining phases will be contingent on the success of the first one, he said.
If the first phase succeeds, Vivo will use hardware provided by Bio Serve to put the tumors in space, Singh said. He estimates Vivo will receive $500,000 to $700,000 for the second phase.
"When we treat a human patient on earth, that tumor has grown according to conditions which we are exposed to here," he said, "but now you expose this tumor to increased radiation in space. It will be exposed to a very unique environment, where there will be changes in the genes and proteins we can identify."
Singh said he expects the observed changes to provide some useful feedback on how to make the tumor more sensitive or finding a more specific drug the tumor will respond to.
NASA has regularly performed projects like the one Vivo got awarded, Singh said. While he's unsure of the exact benefits a space flight will have for the tumors, previous work that sent viruses into space proved fruitful in identifying treatment for those same viruses, he said.
"Last year, or the year before last, they funded a program where they took viruses, deadly viruses that can kill people, and flew them into space," Singh said. "What they found that these viruses became very virulent, aggressive."
Singh said researchers eventually found specific genes that made the viruses stronger. Some drugs are now being worked on to specifically attack those genes to kill the virus, he said.
"We hope to find some unique gene, hopefully to be a target to kill the tumor," he said.
Yann Ranaivo covers health care, technology and more for the Birmingham Business Journal. Click here to follow him on Twitter.