Kimer Med Founded to Develop the DRACO Antiviral Strategy

Today's good news is that a biotech startup, Kimer Med, has been founded to develop the DRACO approach to defeating viral infections. Those of us who have been following developments in antiviral technologies that might be applied to persistent infections relevant to aging, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) and other herpesviruses, may recall a burst of interest in DRACO some years ago, particularly the research crowdfunding efforts in 2015 and 2016.

DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer) works by selectively killing cells that exhibit one of the distinctive signs of viral replication. This replication produces long double-stranded RNA, whereas mammalian cells only produce short double-stranded RNA in the normal course of events. It is possible to deliver a form of molecule into the cell that interacts with only long double-stranded RNA and triggers cell death via caspase induced apoptosis as a result, depriving the viral particles of their factory. The fine details of the approach are outlined in the original 2011 paper, and DRACO has been proven to do quite well by a few different research groups in several different animal models of viral infection.

There are two reasons as why this is interesting. Firstly, it can be applied, with little additional work on a per-case basis, to a broad range of virus types, becoming a potentially near-universal antiviral platform. The economics of such a technology look very good in comparison to most other antiviral approaches. Secondly, it has the potential to clear the body of persistent viruses such as CMV. CMV causes great harm to the immune system over a lifetime because it can only be suppressed by present strategies, never fully cleared from the body. The evidence strongly suggests that it is one of the major causes of age-related immunosenescence.

Unfortunately, DRACO went the way of all too many novel research initiatives. It was a struggle to obtain following grants for such a radical departure from the established approaches, the research crowdfunding efforts didn't go that well (as is usually the case - it is very hard to crowdfund scientific research), the researchers involved moved on, the institutions involved abandoned any effort to maintain and license the intellectual property. All of this happens to many projects in the research community, year after year, regardless of their scientific merits and potential to produce viable, useful therapies.

Sadly, intellectual property is such a linchpin in the standard approach to biotechnology investment, as well as in Big Pharma business models, that technologies in the public domain tend to be left for dead. The view is that no-one can monopolize them, own that whole part of the field, which is seen as necessary in order to justify the enormous resources needed to push a therapy through the present heavy-handed regulatory system. Yet it is nonsense to think that any approach to therapy can in practice be monopolized. Every successful development program quickly results in other organizations putting significant efforts into finding ways to achieve a similar result via the same mechanism that nonetheless bypass existing patents. Still, near all investors and institutions in the commercial space steer clear of public domain science until such time as someone produces clinical success by doing otherwise.

Thankfully, the Kimer Med team are willing to be outliers in this matter. They have picked DRACO as their cause to champion, and intend to raise funds to replicate the work, expand it, and bring this radical new approach to antiviral therapy to the clinic. To the degree that they achieve success, others will follow.

Comments

What I fear most is multiresistant bacteria. In future with germline engineering it will be possible;e to make humans that can't be infected ewith viruses but as far I know it will never be possible with bacteria.

Posted by: thomas.a at September 7th, 2020 1:35 PM

Very nice! Long long awaited news!

Posted by: Antonio at September 7th, 2020 3:03 PM

I said this on my facebook page yesterday in response to this:

I cannot understand for the life of me the apparent lack of interest in development and rollout of DRACO for viral infections, despite the on-going pandemic. Some years ago I thought that a pandemic would act as a driver for the development of DRACO. But it has not. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is really not that much worse than a bad flu. Yet, at the same time, we have states (mostly "blue") maintaining economic shutdowns as though this is a real pandemic. Ditto for Australia and New Zealand. Despite such, support for DRACO from official parties is not forth coming. Something is wrong with this picture. It makes no sense at all. Perhaps I am missing something.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at September 7th, 2020 3:39 PM

Most ppl advent read about DRACO. There also been some other topics that have been forgotten. LPP fusion, Fontan Blood Pump, Solving Organ Shortage, etc.

Posted by: thomas.a at September 7th, 2020 4:12 PM

Nice! I have reached out to them to see if we can help them. If nothing else I would certainly be happy to do an interview with them.

Posted by: Steve Hill at September 7th, 2020 4:55 PM

Amnion Life is another company that haven't got funding.

Posted by: thomas.a at September 7th, 2020 5:17 PM

A company being run by a mathematician and software engineer are going to develop an obscure anti-viral that has never gotten any traction by "smart money" bio investors??

https://www.kimermed.co.nz/about

I don't think I'll be an early investor in this one..

Posted by: James Burnbrae at September 7th, 2020 6:02 PM

Glad to see DRACO pop up again. It's really bizarre to me that it hasn't gotten bought up given that the idea seems sound and broadly applicable. Are pharma companies concerned that it doesn't actually work...?

Posted by: Jamodon at September 7th, 2020 8:42 PM

Actually, a better question is why Dr. Todd Rider wasn't able to get NIH funding for such interesting research and had to turn to crowdsourcing in the first place. There must be some kind of story here we're not getting, although I have no idea if that's "there's no good data it works" or "weird academic politics."

You can see in this 2011 PLOS One paper that DRACO greatly reduced morbidity in mice challenged with influenza - (fig 9): https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0022572#pone-0022572-g009

Rescuing mice from death by influenza is an extremely exciting result for something that purports to be broadly applicable to any virus that uses dsRNA. So why is it published in PLOS One and not an ultra-prestigious one like Nature? PLOS One will publish practically anything. A paper this exciting should have been able to get published in a much more selective journal, unless there were serious concerns about the methodology or data. The only real reason I could imagine this happening is if reviewers for more prestigious journals asked for additional controls or analyses the authors weren't willing to do - see this comment on the paper saying essentially the same thing: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/comment?id=10.1371/annotation/0f09a581-f4b6-4166-a815-42764817bb5d

And setting aside why this wasn't published in Nature, it should have been easy to excite grant reviewers at NIH with this data, especially given the reaction in popular media. Instead the authors turned to crowdfunding? It's possible there's a legitimate explanation for all this, but these are huge red flags.

Posted by: Jamodon at September 7th, 2020 9:22 PM

And there are more red flags. DRACO's inventor, Todd Rider, has refused to answer questions about doubts regarding DRACO's possible effectiveness for latent viruses such as HIV and HSV. And a few months after Rider received $100k of crowdfunding (which was reportedly being put to use for DRACO research), he stopped communicating about DRACO and hasn't been heard from since.

https://www.longecity.org/forum/topic/108810-covid-19-solutions/?view=findpost&p=889233

Posted by: Florin at September 7th, 2020 9:49 PM

You make some good points there, Florin. I took a look at the most recent (2016) Dr. Rider AMA on reddit, and it also has several red flags. https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/3om1hp/i_am_drtodd_rider_i_hope_to_cure_all_viral/

First of all, Dr. Rider seems to have deleted the original post. Second, when someone asked "why are you crowdfunding instead of applying for grants?" all he said was "The grants are over and that is why we are on IndieGoGo." That's not an explanation at all - if DRACO worked, it'd be easy to produce more data and renew the grants, or get new ones.

Florin points out in his link that there are a lot of other broad spectrum antivirals, like birinapant, MUS-Au nanoparticles, protein-based viral prophylaxis (PVP), and peptide P9. I think these are probably much more worthy of investment than DRACO.

Posted by: Jamodon at September 7th, 2020 10:07 PM

Independently of what you think about Dr. Rider, his university is no longer holding DRACO's patent, so it's not his project anymore. Let's focus on what this company is doing.

Posted by: Antonio at September 8th, 2020 4:17 AM

@Antonio: Well written.

Posted by: Norse at September 8th, 2020 5:27 AM

Seems like nothing so far

They are "pre-seed" (translated to "no money") and have a cheap website which looks like a child put it together

https://www.kimermed.co.nz/ourwork

Posted by: devon mcradle at September 8th, 2020 6:00 AM

I have secured an interview, does anyone have any sensible questions you want me to ask?

I will be asking about their backgrounds and how a mathematician and software engineer plan to tackle the world of biotech and trying to find out who their scientific team is etc...

There are a few red flags here so let's see if we can get some answers.

Posted by: Steve Hill at September 8th, 2020 6:28 AM

Having read through the above links, I'm starting to get a better picture of the hurtles and limitations of DRACO. There are clearly issues, even safety issues, to DRACO treatments. However, none of these technical issues have never been brought up through the official parties involved with COVID-19. So my first points remain standing with regards to the neglect of DRACO by those working on COVID-19 treatments.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at September 8th, 2020 11:29 AM

There has got to be some technical hurdles to this. If you can cure herpes or even HPV you are a billion dollar company. It seems like something this valuable should sail across the valley of death.

Posted by: jimofoz at September 8th, 2020 12:44 PM

@Steve Hill Cool, let us know what they say! I'm personally curious as to:
1. What made them interested in picking up DRACO?
2. What have they seen that convinced them that DRACO works well?
3. What needs to be improved about DRACO to make it viable, and how do they plan to do that with VTose?

Posted by: Jamodon at September 8th, 2020 8:02 PM

Hello. Reason, thanks for the article. Rick from Kimer Med here. It's great to see the interest and many questions. I can try to answer a few here, although we have actually set up a forum for this exact purpose: https://forum.kimermed.co.nz/

Starting from the top:

thomas.a: if you read Dr Rider's patent, one of the things he describes is how this chimeric drug technology should also be applicable to both bacteria and parasites. It's certainly a long-term interest of ours to extend the work in that direction.

Jamodon: In an old interview, Dr Rider said he believes the reason he was unable to secure NIH funding is because their programs are oriented toward either basic research or the final take-it-to-market step, after clinical trials are complete, but that they don't like to fund the in-between period. Personally, I'm a bit more cynical.

Regarding PLoS One vs. Nature: Which articles are chosen by journals is influenced by much more than the quality of the science, and similarly researchers choose different journals for a number of reasons. Rider has never said who he approached for publication or why. Fortunately, PLoS One is peer-reviewed. Also, when you read the paper carefully, the depth is impressive; it's clearly a tour de force. Extremely solid results, presented from multiple angles, including support for mechanism of action. Another important factor is that since the original paper, the antiviral behavior of DRACO has been reproduced in two other labs with published results.

Posted by: Kimer Med at September 8th, 2020 9:48 PM

Well done to the Kimer Med guys for taking the time to response to questions directly on fightaging.

I really hope your attempt at taking an invention and doing the hard work of innovation to turn it into a useful saleable product works out.

The use of TAT proteins for cell entry is interesting, I'm surprised that it has not bee used more (I haven't read a review on this so maybe they are already in widespread use?). My question for Steve's Lifespan.io interview would be "Why are TAT proteins for intra cellular delivery of therapies not in widespread use?".

Posted by: jimofoz at September 9th, 2020 6:11 AM

Thanks for the response and that rebuttal, Rick and Phil. That's very encouraging that the results have been replicated and published by 2 other labs (do you happen to have links to the papers?). And I noticed in your rebuttal that DRACO was subsequently successfully used against two other viruses besides influenza in mice, which is exciting. I expect that publishing a followup showing efficacy in vivo against multiple diseases would really convince people. Or go further and use something like the rhesus monkey model from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature17180.

Wishing you guys the best!

Posted by: Jamodon at September 9th, 2020 8:37 AM

Yeah, we noticed the piglet funding effort, too. Unfortunately, in vivo studies aren't cheap.
However, since one of our main goals is to quickly reach clinical trials, replicating and extending in vivo results is high on our priority list.

Posted by: Kimer Med at September 12th, 2020 9:27 AM

Interesting how some folks cannot understand why the Vaccine Industry would not want DRACO to have been on the market . Why would the big health care industry ignore a cure that would eliminate or greatly reduce their reason for manipulating the system to drain pockets and insurance companies? Draco has been as positive a product as can be since MIT came up with it. No real issues just great promise but could get no funding till now? Please ...

Posted by: Michael at October 7th, 2020 6:41 AM

I agree 100% Michael,
I began following DRACO when it was still in its early inception with Todd Rider and MIT. Since the beginning of this pandemic I have asked, screamed and touted the question "WHY ISN'T ANYONE LOOKING AT DRACO????" While I am not in the field of research, I am a science teacher and was so excited at the prospect of DRACO when first introduced.. It was like a broad spectrum antibiotic for viruses, then it slowly just disappeared. With it's proven efficacy, the only conclusion I could come up with was big pharma was trying to shut it down because it would destroy a multi billion dollar industry of cough, cold and flu remedies.
I am so excited that Kimer Med is taking this on and if anyone is listening, I will volunteer to be a test subject when you are ready for human clinicals...

Posted by: Julie Cordaro at October 15th, 2020 6:19 PM

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.