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Roswell Park spinoff, Indian pharma company start joint venture

A major Indian pharmaceutical company is forming a joint venture with a startup life-sciences company in Buffalo that grew out of research conducted at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

AMI Organics, which has two manufacturing sites in the western Indian state of Gujarat, is investing $2 million in the joint venture with Photolitec, the Roswell Park spinoff. The investment and the joint venture will help Photolitec complete the costly clinical trials required to determine if its cancer treatments are safe and effective before they can be brought to market.

“It is good, not only for Photolitec, but I think it is fantastic for Western New York,” said Ravindra Pandey, a Roswell Park scientist and Photolitec’s founder.

The newly formed company is expected to open with five or six employees in space on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus sometime in the next few months, according to AMI Organics and Photolitec officials, who met in Buffalo this week to close the deal.

Pandey founded Photolitec in 2010. The startup rents space from Roswell Park, but by the end of this month will move its five employees to the Cleveland BioLabs building on the Medical Campus. The company has raised $5 million from Hisun Pharma, a Chinese drug company, and $1.6 million in National Institutes of Health.

Photolitec is focusing on commercializing two compounds for the treatment and detection of cancer that were developed by Pandey and other researchers at Roswell Park in collaboration with the University at Buffalo and the University of Michigan. Photolitec licensed from Roswell Park the rights to commercialize the compounds.

The first is a photosensitive compound, known as photobac, that can be injected into a patient who has a brain tumor or cancer of the head and neck. A laser light then illuminates the tumor and activates agents that target and destroy the cancer cells, even in deeply seated tumors, Pandey said. Also, in cases where removal of the tumor is required, the illuminated photobac compound can highlight for surgeons where the tumor cells end and the healthy brain cells begin.

The second, radioactive compound is a nuclear imaging agent known as PET-ONCO – for positron emission tomography and oncology – that shows potential in detecting any form of cancer, not just those of the brain, head and neck.

The next-generation, longer-lasting compound makes PET imaging more specific and reliable, allowing for better diagnosis of cancer, said Scott E. Friedman, managing partner of the Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman law firm and a member of Photolitec’s board of directors.

Soon after its founding, Photolitec was hit with a lawsuit by a former Roswell Park scientist, Khushi L. Matta, who argued that the company was formed out of research he had helped to conduct and that he was unfairly left out of the startup.

Roswell Park also was named in the suit. Pandey described the case as “a misunderstanding,” saying the patented technology licensed by Photolitec didn’t include Matta’s work.

Pandey said Roswell Park settled the suit and Photolitec did not pay any money to Matta to resolve the case. Henry J. Cittone, Matta’s attorney, said the parties reached a confidential settlement and the patent in question was transferred to his client’s name. A Roswell Park spokeswoman confirmed the case was resolved but did not elaborate.

Looking ahead, the $2 million from AMI Organics will help the joint venture finish the phase I clinical trial for both compounds. AMI has committed to invest additional money in the joint venture for the required phase II and phase III trials and for the marketing of the drugs once the testing is finished. The joint venture may seek to join the Start-Up NY tax-incentive program.

The AMI-Photolitec joint venture eventually would market both compounds everywhere except in China and a few neighboring countries and territories, where Hisun Pharma will sell them.

“It is a strategic alliance that we have started with Photolitec,” said Girish Chovatia, chairman and managing director of AMI Organics.

AMI Organics has 850 employees and markets its products in 44 countries, and always is on the lookout for promising biotech innovations, Chovatia said. While the company casts its eye globally, cancer is a leading cause of death in India, where three million people have the disease and hundreds of thousands of people die from it every year, he said.