Press Release

Institut Pasteur Korea, Bio-Synergy Research Center, and KAIST jointly provides KEY bio with technology transfer of an anti-fibrotic drug candidate

Institut Pasteur Korea, Bio-Synergy Research Center, and KAIST jointly provide KEY bio with technology transfer of an anti-fibrotic drug candidate 

- Drug candidate developed by integrating a spheroidal model of liver fibrosis to drug screening -
- KEY Bio to accelerate commercialization of the drug through follow-up R&D, including clinical trials -
- Drug expected to not only treat fibrosis but also increase absorption of concomitant medications
such as anticancer drugs, enhancing their efficacy -

On April 15, Institut Pasteur Korea (CEO Dr. Youngmee Jee), Bio-Synergy Research Center (CEO Dr. Doheon Lee), and KAIST (President Dr. Kwang Hyung Lee) concluded a licensing out agreement with KEY Bio (CEO Dr. Mikyeong Park) for technology transfer of a flavanone derivative-based drug candidate (hereinafter, “flavanone derivative”) with therapeutic efficacy against fibrosis.

Flavanones are abundantly contained in the peel of citrus fruits and are known to carry antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which is the reason for their use as health functional foods.

Fibrosis is a condition in which tissues of the liver, lung, and skin harden, reducing the function of human organs and threatening the life of patients. However, currently, there is no effective treatment against fibrosis. 

The team led by Dr. Haengran Seo at IPK’s Advanced Biomedical Research Laboratory screened IPK’s library of natural products and natural product derivatives utilizing the institute’s core image-based drug screening technology. As a result, the team was able to reveal that flavanone derivative carries excellent anti-fibrotic properties.

In particular, the research team constructed a “3D multicellular liver spheroid” model consisting of hepatocytes, surrounding blood vessels, immune cells, signaling molecules, and extracellular matrix to mimic conditions inside the human body. Integrating this model to drug screening, the team was able to discover a drug candidate with significant preclinical efficacy. 

Additionally, the team determined the mechanism by which flavanone derivative inhibits liver fibrosis utilizing “CODA” – a virtual human body model based on big data, developed by Prof. Doheon Lee’s team at KAIST Dept. of Bio and Brain Engineering. The team also confirmed in vivo efficacy of the flavanone derivative through animal experiments on disease models. 

KEY Bio plans on quickly verifying the drug efficacy of the flavanone derivative and driving commercialization by implementing preclinical and clinical follow-up R&D, including safety and efficacy evaluation. 

Employing its strengths in (pre)clinical R&D, KEY Bio also intends to focus on discovering possibilities for use of flavanone derivative as therapeutics for other diseases. 

Dr. Youngmee Jee, CEO of IPK, explained, “Reversing fibrosis is important since it will not only normalize the function of the relevant organ but also increase the absorption of concomitant medications such as anticancer drugs, enhancing their therapeutic effects.” She added, “I hope that KEY Bio’s expertise in traditional Korean medicine and clinical R&D will enable successful commercialization of the drug candidate IPK discovered, providing patients with treatment options and encouraging the development of natural product drugs.”

Dr. Mikyeong Park, CEO of KEY Bio, said, “The flavanone derivative is worth our attention as it is a single compound that demonstrates high efficacy and stability compared to existing substances selected from the natural product library. I am extremely excited to have found such a promising candidate for the treatment of fibrosis, a disease for which treatment options were desperately needed in the clinical field.” She added, “Through continuous collaboration with IPK, which possesses excellent research capacity, KEY Bio will work to achieve commercialization of research products and grow into a company that can benefit patients suffering from related diseases.”

With the signing of an MOU in August 2021, IPK and KEY Bio have been taking on various collaborations to develop natural product drugs, such as joint research to develop medicinal herb-based drugs for the treatment of liver cancer and liver disease. 

This research was conducted as part of the “Bio-Synergy Research Project with Medical Heritage” under the Biomedical Technology Development Program supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT.