An Imperial College London research team has signed a licensing deal with CytRx.

An Imperial College London research team has signed a licensing deal with CytRx, a US biopharmaceutical company, which could pave the way to a commercial obesity treatment. The deal focuses on a protein that appears to block the expression of key metabolic genes which help balance energy storage and expenditure.

A team of UK researchers from Imperial College London, Kings College London, and the University of Cambridge discovered that mice lacking the protein (RIP140) stay slim despite being fed a fat-rich diet. Such mice were on average 20 per cent lighter than normal mice and accumulated between 50 and 70 per cent less fat. The researchers suggest that the protein’s absence increases the expression of a gene involved in energy metabolism called uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1). When the protein is present it latches on to a nuclear receptor which plays a role in controlling the body’s metabolic processes and helps prevent transcription of the gene.

Malcolm Parker, who led the Imperial team, said that the research ’could provide a novel approach to developing new obesity treatments. By reducing the levels of RIP140, it is possible to increase the activity of the UCP1 gene. UCP1 plays a key role in regulating energy balance in the body and through this we can reduce body weight by increasing energy expenditure’. However, he cautioned that ’we do need to be careful in interpreting the results. The study was carried out in mice, which were born without RIP140, and it will be important to determine the consequences of blocking RIP140 action in adults’.

CytRx set up the deal with Imperial College Innovations, Imperial’s technology transfer company. It relates to a patent taken out by Parker’s team which identifies RIP140 as a therapeutic target to treat obesity.

Imperial College Innovations will receive a licence fee, milestone payments and royalties on sales of any products. Steven Kriegsman, president and CEO of CytRx, said: ’It is our ultimate objective with this discovery to develop a pill or an injectable that will help obese individuals lose weight and maintain their ideal body weight throughout their life’.

Emma Davies