Praising her ongoing passion for developing a new class of treatments for cancer and addiction, Florida’s biotechnology industry organization, BioFlorida, has awarded its 2022 Weaver H. Gaines Entrepreneur of the Year award to Courtney Miller, Ph.D., director of academic affairs and a professor at UF Scripps Biomedical Research in Jupiter, Florida.
“We are pleased to present Dr. Miller with the Entrepreneur of the Year award for her contributions to the Florida life sciences industry and her ongoing passion and commitment to develop first-in-class therapies for the treatment of cancer and psychiatric disorders, targeting an untapped superfamily of proteins known as molecular nanomoters,” said Nancy K. Bryan, president and CEO of BioFlorida. “Dr. Miller’s work is a success story for our industry, and we are always excited to celebrate over a decade of work at the UF Scripps Biomedical Research labs, resulting in the success we are seeing now from Myosin Therapeutics.”
Based in Jupiter, Myosin Therapeutics is a UF Scripps spinoff company founded in 2020 by Miller and two of her UF Scripps colleagues, Patrick Griffin, Ph.D., the institute’s scientific director, and Ted Kamenecka, Ph.D., senior scientific director in the UF Scripps department of molecular medicine.
The company designs new medications to target the mechanisms that cells use to convert energy into mechanical work. Their intellectual property comes from work developed at UF Scripps for discovery of new modulators of molecular motor proteins, something Miller has studied at her Jupiter, Florida lab dating back to 2010. Myosin Therpeutics has applied this platform technology to discover potential medications for several conditions, including substance use disorders and cancers.
Glioblastoma is the most common form of brain cancer. It grows and spreads invasively, characteristics that Miller refers to as “the grow and go phenomena.” Most therapeutics in development are targeted toward preventing growth, but they don’t address the “go” phenomenon of cancer cells migrating throughout the brain, Miller said in a talk at BioFlorida’s annual state conference earlier this month.
“Unfortunately, glioblastoma tumor cells change to one phenotype or the other, and so if you block their ability to grow, they switch to the ‘go’ phenotype, and vice versa,” Miller said.
The compound her company is developing for glioblastoma, MT-125, attacks cancer cells in two ways. The first intervenes in the process that cancerous brain cells use to invade new areas of the brain, specifically by binding with a motor protein called non-muscle myosin IIA. It also alters an inner cytoskeleton protein called non-muscle myosin IIB, which impairs cell division and tumor growth.
Testing has shown the compound increases radiation sensitivity. When used in conjunction with radiation and an FDA-approved drug for glioblastoma in laboratory mice with the disease , 40% of the animals survived until the study concluded.
“Forty percent of the animals survived, and the pathology showed no sign of tumors in these animals,” Miller said.
“We’re focused on this in terms of glioblastoma, but there are a lot of other potential cancers, and we are starting to gather that data,” she added. “We are extremely grateful to the NIH for getting all of this going,”
In 2021 the company was awarded a $2.8 million, fast-track Small Business Innovation Research grant to advance another myosin-targeting compound, MT-110, a single-use treatment for methamphetamine use disorder. More than 2 million people in the United States struggle with the disorder, but there are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat it.
Media contact: Stacey S. DeLoye, [email protected], 561-228-2551