NASA Spinoff

Protein Innovations Advance Drug Treatments, Skin Care

As an outcome of compiling CADEX, New Century was able to create a number of other innovations with potential for medical benefit, including its first commercial product, Albagen recombinant human serum albumin (rHSA). Produced synthetically in yeast rather than derived from animal sources, the Albagen rHSA is hypoallergenic and poses no risk of dangerous contaminants like viruses or prions. New Century licensed the Albagen technology to Albumin Bioscience in 2009, which is expanding the application of Albagen into potential research and therapeutic markets including drug delivery and in vitro fertilization. Albumin Bioscience has also incorporated Albagen into a line of unique skin care products designed to improve skin health by replenishing albumin levels in the skin.

Meanwhile, New Century continues to build upon the foundation of its CADEX repository.

“We learned that the bulk of large complex anticancer drugs bind to the same location in albumin,” says Carter, who served as chief of Marshall’s Biophysics and Advanced Materials Branch and won multiple NASA honors before founding New Century. “We also learned of molecules that have no anticancer activity and which are very powerful in blocking that particular binding site.”

The outcome is a new cancer drug combination approach called Salus, which in effect “tunes” the patient’s blood chemistry so that less of the anticancer drugs bind with albumin. This results in lower dose requirements— good news for patients who suffer from the toxic side effects of chemotherapy. The company plans to start clinical trials this year.

“When we look at the activity against cancer cell lines, there is dramatic improvement in performance,” says Carter. “Our goal is that this will be used to improve the clinical outcome of cancer patients everywhere.”

New Century has cultivated a number of successes outside of its albumin research. At Marshall in 1991, Carter, NASA colleague Joseph X. Ho and Florian Rüker, then with the Institute of Applied Microbiology in Vienna, helped determine the atomic structure of an antibody that recognized HIV—another scientific first. This collaboration culminated in a modular antibody technology that the company licensed and later sold to Austrian biotechnology company f-star, which is using the innovation to develop novel antibody-based treatments for conditions ranging from cancer to autoimmune diseases. New Century also invented a family of nanoparticle protein technologies, Ferrigen, with potential applications ranging from vaccines to drug delivery; developed a candidate HIV vaccine platform utilizing the Ferrigen technology; and crafted hardware currently under testing at Marshall for growing large crystals in space—ideal for neutron imaging applications that can reveal atomic structures more clearly than ever before.

With its origins at NASA, New Century’s CADEX platform is still the world’s largest repository of albumin structures, Carter says, and the potential clinical benefit of that data has yet to be fully realized.

“The challenge ahead of us is how that information is translated into helping people,” he says. “That’s an ongoing process.”

CADEX™, Albagen™, Salus™, and Ferrigen™ are trademarks of New Century Pharmaceuticals Inc.