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BOSTON—Ember Therapeutics Inc. has agreed with the Joslin Diabetes Center to exclusively license intellectual property covering bone morphogenetic protein 7 (BMP7), which has been shown to play a role in the regulation of brown fat development.
Unlike white fat, which stores energy, brown fat burns stored calories. Small mammals and human infants, with a high ratio of surface area to volume, have large amounts of brown fat to protect them from extreme cold, but adults lose most of their brown fat stores to maximize metabolic efficiency. This efficiency allowed early humans to survive when food was not plentiful. However, in abundant food environments, it is actually a major contributor to the current epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease.
Research on BMP7 technology was led by Drs. Yu-Hua Tseng, Aaron Cypess and C. Ronald Kahn of Harvard Medical School and the Joslin Diabetes Center, and is detailed in a key 2008 Nature paper outlining the important role of BMP7 in promoting brown fat precursor cells. Kahn is also a scientific co-founder of Ember. Among the paper's important findings were that brown fat can increase energy expenditure and protect against obesity through a specialized program of uncoupled respiration. The authors reported that brown, but not white, fat cells arise from precursors that express Myf5, a gene previously thought to be expressed only in the myogenic lineage.
According to Dr. Louis Tartaglia, president and interim CEO of Ember and partner at Third Rock Ventures LLC, it has been reported that adult humans still have about 60 grams of brown fat along with important precursors, one of which is irisin, a naturally-occurring hormone that has demonstrated the ability to stimulate brown fat development in white fat cells and mimic some of the beneficial effects of exercise. The Nature publication outlined how even relatively short treatments of obese mice with irisin caused an increase in energy expenditure with no changes in activity levels or food intake, resulting in improved glucose homeostasis and weight loss.
Ember has exclusively licensed this irisin technology from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and is optimizing and developing a proprietary molecule designed to augment and activate the body's brown fat. Beyond irisin, Ember plans to develop a broad pipeline of large and small molecule programs that augment and activate the body's brown fat, amplifying the natural ability to efficiently burn fuel stores such as glucose and lipids to reduce stored calories in the body. Already, several proprietary proteins have been identified that increase brown fat levels and consequently have positive impacts on metabolic disease. The small molecule program, which is in the screening stage, is several years out, Tartaglia says.
In addition to irisin, "We are continuing to build our portfolio of key brown fat intellectual property, and this BMP7 technology discovered by one of our co-founders is an important and strategic addition," Tartaglia states. "We are pleased to expand our brown fat pipeline and further pursue our research into BMP7."
"BMP7 is an exciting target for brown fat because it has been shown to promote brown fat differentiation and thermogenesis in vivo and in vitro," said Kahn. "At the Joslin, one of our goals is to partner with industry to translate academic discoveries into potential treatments for the benefit of patients. I look forward to further advancing research into this promising target and a potential new therapeutic approach for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes."
In addition to the licensing agreement, Joslin will conduct research services for Ember through Joslin Technologies, an accelerator group within the institution that works with industry partners.