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Early Charm Ventures launches Abri Science with $225K in funding

The company, formed through a collaboration with Philly-based institutions, is developing a therapy for the metabolic disorder PKU.

Taking a closer look at Maryland's life sciences and medtech startups. (Photo via Shutterstock.com)

A tech transfer collaboration that spans Baltimore and Philly is resulting in a new startup.

Abri Science is applying materials science to a therapy treating the metabolic disorder known as PKU. The company was formed as a portfolio company of Baltimore-based startup studio Early Charm Ventures through a licensing agreement with University of the Sciences in collaboration with tech transfer and commercialization company L2C Partners, both of which are based in Philadelphia.

The company received a $225,000 Small Business Technology Transfer grant from the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to further develop the technology.

Abri’s technology was developed by USciences pharmaceutical sciences professor Dr. Anil D’mello. It aims to address phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder that appears at birth and affects one out of every 12,000 infants, per the company. Untreated, it can lead to intellectual disability, behavioral problems and seizures.

With PKU, “your body doesn’t produce the necessary enzymes to break down a very fundamental building block of food,” said Abri’s director of business development, Dr. Adam Van Dyke. “What happens is that rather than breaking it down and incorporating it into the body normally, it builds up and becomes very toxic to cells because they do not have the machinery to handle it.”

The building block, called phenylalanine, is in many foods, so limiting a diet to avoid it is difficult. Treatments have sought to provide artificial enzymes to help break it down, but a typical capsule that would be taken as medicine is designed to dispense all of the enzyme at once when it’s broken down during digestion.

Abri is bringing a new approach to a dietary supplement. The company is developing a capsule that has a protective coat, which is porous. This allows the enzyme inside, which is derived from a plant, to be released into the body over time.

“It protects the machinery inside the capsule from normal digestive processes, so it’s still functional, and because the coat doesn’t degrade, it’s functional over time,” Van Dyke said. This is important because the treatment for PKU requires a more sustained approach.

With the grant funding, Van Dyke said the company will continue testing and research to develop the product.

There’s a bigger vision, as well. The company is starting with PKU, but sees it as a “platform technology” that could be applied to treatments for other conditions.

Spark Baltimore-based Early Charm Ventures has a number of portfolio companies that are commercializing technology coming out of Baltimore institutions. We took note of the collaboration with Philly-based specialists: With that city being a 90-minute drive up the road and also boasting noted life sciences research ecosystem, Van Dyke said it made sense to partner, even as it keeps a focus at home.

“Staying and cultivating relationships locally and expanding that even a little bit not only gives us a greater footprint, but allows us [to discover] opportunities that we wouldn’t necessarily see or know of otherwise to come across our desk,” he said.

It’s the latest sign the firm is looking to open up doors in other locales, as well, as it partnered to explore Europe earlier this year.

Companies: Early Charm Ventures
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