MIAMI — Praising her ongoing passion for developing a new class of treatments for cancer and substance use disorders, Florida’s statewide biotechnology industry organization, BioFlorida, awarded its 2022 Weaver H. Gaines Entrepreneur of the Year award Friday to Courtney Miller, Ph.D., director of academic affairs and professor at UF Scripps Biomedical Research in Jupiter, Florida.
“We are pleased to present Courtney A. Miller, Ph.D., 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, Florida, Myosin Therapeutics is a spinoff company from UF Scripps that was founded in 2020 by Miller and two of her UF Scripps colleagues, Patrick Griffin, Ph.D. scientific director of the institute, and Ted Kamenecka, Ph.D., senior scientific director in the UF Scripps department of molecular medicine.
The company designs novel medications to target the mechanisms that cells use to convert energy into mechanical work. The work is based on a platform the scientists developed at UF Scripps for discovery of novel modulators of molecular motor proteins, and is based on research from Miller’s lab dating back to 2010.
Myosin Therpeutics has applied this platform technology toward 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.
“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 vise-versa.” Miller said.
The compound her company is developing for glioblastoma, MT-125, targets the cancer cells in two ways. The first targets the process that brain cells use to invade new areas of the brain, an actin-binding motor protein called non-muscle myosin IIA. It also targets an inner cytoskeleton protein called non-muscle myosin IIB, which stops cell division and tumor growth.
Testing has shown the compound increases radiation sensitivity. Used in conjunction with radiation and an FDA-approved drug for glioblastoma, in mouse models of the disease they saw 40 percent of animals survive until the conclusion of the study.
“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,” Miller said.
In addition, 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 of methamphetamine use disorder. More than 1 million people in the United States struggle with the disorder, but there are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat it.
“We are extremely grateful to the NIH for getting all of this going,” Miller said.