BIRD Foundation Provides $900,000 Grant for Cancer Research

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No, you don’t have to be Jewish to get money from the U.S.-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation.

The Gene Editing Institute of Christiana Care Health System’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center and Research Institute in Wilmington, Del., can verify that now that Christiana and Israeli biotech company NovellusDx have received a $900,000 grant to team together to fight cancer.

And there figure to be more potential business matches where they came from, which would be just fine for all concerned.

“I am presenting Israel to the general business community,” explained Vered Nohi, the Pennsylvania and Delaware representative for the BIRD Foundation, as well as the executive director of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “It really doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is.

“People should appreciate Israel and its technology and the opportunity it presents.”

Eric Kmiec, director of Christiana Care’s Gene Editing Institute, does.

Eric Kmiec, director of gene editing at Christiana, works in the lab.
Photo provided

“We told Vered what we were doing at Christiana, and she said this was a unique opportunity and a good area for the BIRD Foundation to be involved,” Kmiec said. “She told us how to apply and sent a link to Israeli companies we might be interested in partnering with.  

“I went through them one Sunday and sent about seven emails. Novellus responded and said this might not be a bad idea.”

Following a long courtship, they’re about to make it official, signing a licensing agreement later this month that they hope leads to a breakthrough fighting the dreaded disease.

“We’re interested in gene editing to detect cancer,” Kmiec said. “We think by using our approach we can accelerate the rate to detect mutations in patient samples. Cancer therapy is headed to a more personalized level.”

It gets a bit technical here, but the bottom line is that after the institute takes DNA samples of patients, Novellus is able to break them down and determine the best medications and the course of treatment.

“We’re a startup company in Jerusalem who’ve developed a system that’s able to test in live cells for mutations,” Novellus Chief Commercial Officer Michael Vidne said. “Not all mutations are bad, and there are driver cells and passenger cells in every mutation.

“We all share the same kind of template, so if someone has a tumor we can compare those DNA cells to the template. We take that data and synthesize it to grow genes. We then robotically insert the genes into live cells and see how the mutations are reacting.

“Then we’re able to test drugs on them.”

The end result should speed up the process considerably while also lowering the cost of medication.

“This is only the start of what I think is building a relationship,” said Kmiec, who after visiting Israel for the first time last summer will reciprocate when Vidne and other Novellus official arrive Feb. 23 to finalize the licensing agreement. “We’re both at the leading edge of personalized medicine of where the future of cancer medicines will be.”

Getting the grant from the BIRD Foundation will enable both to proceed without worrying about the cost.

“There’s an inherent risk in being a research and development company,” Vidne said. “Being a young startup, it’s difficult to put the financing together. The BIRD grant allows us to finance this partnership.”

Kmiec said all of the money will go into the research.

“This is a very significant award, and the beauty of it is that the money will go for research and development, not administrative costs,” Kmiec said.

Vidne also is aware of the potential ramifications.

“Everyone knows cancer intimately or knows someone who has cancer,” he said. “So everyone will be happy when we make progress.”

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