Biotech Discovery Fuels UWM Startup

Ching-Hong Yang (left), associate professor of biological sciences, and Yan Li, visiting professor from China Agricultural University

Biotech Discovery Fuels UWM Startup

Today, curing an infection means using antibiotics that kill the offending pathogen. But Ching-Hong Yang has a better idea. A chemical compound he and a partner developed disarms pathogens so that they can't invade healthy cells in the first place. With recent investment backing, the pair is closer to bringing their discovery to market.

A new strategy for treating infection in both humans and plants is the basis for the latest startup company – and the second one this year – to launch from research conducted at UWM.

With backing from an investor, UWM biologist Ching-Hong Yang and collaborator Xin Chen, a chemistry professor at Changzhou University in China, have formed T3 Bioscience LLC, licensing the commercial use of their idea from the UWM Research Foundation.

Their product is a potent antibacterial agent with a crucial advantage over current antibiotics. Rather than killing the bacteria, the compound disables their genetic ability to cause infection, eliminating the threat of antibiotic resistance in the process.

The investor is associated with a large company in Hong Kong and now owns a share of the new company. The support will allow Yang and Chen to further hone their product and create derivatives as they move toward human trials.

Results have shown the compounds to be effective against two different kinds of pathogens, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the cause of many aggressive and sometimes fatal hospital infections. The product was found equally effective against two pathogens that attack crops.

The scientists currently are adjusting the level of potency without increasing toxicity, and conducting further tests for side effects. In the compound for plants, they are developing a time-release action.

“The university can take the lead in identifying biotech ideas with commercial value, because in the lab researchers can work out the details,” says Yang. “For a lot of innovative ideas, companies prefer to take them at a later stage of development. They will not invest in anything that they feel is risky.”

Ching-Hong Yang works with current doctoral student Devanshi Khokhani and former student Yan Li (pictured above) to test the compound against multiple pathogens by recording changes in virulence gene expression of the bacteria.