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UC San Diego researcher gets $15 million for nanosponge therapy

Macrophage nanosponges could treat sepsis, COVID and more
ucsd nanosponge rendering
Posted at 6:12 AM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 11:10:52-04

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) - A researcher at UC San Diego just got a $15 million grant to further his work into nanosponge therapy.

Liangfang Zhang, a professor of nanoengineering and bioengineering, has been working on creating macrophage cellular nanosponges, tiny particles covered in white blood cell membranes, to treat sepsis and other diseases.

"They can be used to bind to the virus and neutralize the virus," Zhang says. "So now the virus would lose the ability to infect the host cells."

The nanosponges act as decoys, tricking a disease or virus into binding with them instead of with human cells. While the initial aim is to treat sepsis, Zhang says it has applications to other deadly diseases, including COVID-19.

"The formulation that we're developing for treatment of Sepsis is the same formulation that you will use with COVID-19," he says.

The grant comes from CARB-X, a Boston-based medical philanthropy that specializes in funding research into antibacterial treatments.

Zhang says the money will be used for his company, Cellics Therapeutics, to further advance the research into clinical trials, FDA approval, and production of the nanosponge therapy.

Steve Chen, president and chief medical officer of Cellics Therapeutics, says he's hopeful they can advance the nanosponges into human trials within two years.

"We're essentially looking at how this platform can treat not just infectious disease or future pandemics, but you could actually have a lot of applications in any type of autoimmune diseases or any type of inflammatory diseases," says Chen.

In an early study published this year, Zhang's research showed the nanosponges were around 90% effective at blocking infections from taking hold.

RELATED: UC San Diego researchers testing nanosponges to fight COVID-19

Chen says the research and trial period may take too long for the nanosponges to be used during the current coronavirus pandemic. But he's hopeful it will help make the next outbreak less severe.

"My sincere desire is that we are not going to need this for COVID-19. But I think this does position us very well for any potential future kind of viral outbreak," says Chen.

Cellics is also working on a Red Blood Cell version of their nanosponges, which may be ready for human trials within a year.