January 2, 2014

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Fluorescent Probe Illuminates Cancer Research

Press Release

January 2, 2014

Salt Lake City – Researchers from Echelon Biosciences, Inc. and the University of Utah have reported that the use of ATX-Red AR-2, a new imaging agent, effectively illuminates tumors.

Published in November in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, the report describes the use of ATX-Red AR-2 for imaging breast cancer tumor masses in living mice.

"ATX-Red AR-2 is an exciting advancement for pre-clinical drug discovery and development, allowing researchers the ability to monitor diseases and drug candidates using a non-invasive, mechanism-specific diagnostic," said Dr. Chad Testa, vice president of research and development at Echelon Biosciences, Inc.

Visualizing the activity of the enzyme autotaxin (ATX) promotes the development of treatment for cancer and other diseases by allowing researchers to witness the effectiveness of a drug candidate in a live animal non-invasively, as no surgical procedure is required.

"Validating that your drug candidate works against its intended target in a living animal overcomes a significant hurdle in the therapeutic development process," Testa said.

Echelon Biosciences synthesized ATX-Red AR-2 to include proprietary dyes licensed from LI-COR Biosciences that emit light when viewed in the near-infrared spectrum, which is ideal for imaging in animals. When administered intravenously, ATX-Red AR-2 specifically targets ATX, which activates the probe causing it to emit light. In the absence of ATX there is no emission of light.

"Researchers can measure the effectiveness of their potential drug candidate by viewing the amount of light the probe emits—a decrease in signal reflects successful disease suppression," said W. Tim Miller, president and CEO of Echelon Biosciences.

ATX is essential in cell growth—in both normal physiology and in several diseases—with elevated levels found in many cancers, including those of the breast, pancreas, kidney and brain, and in arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, neuropathic pain and obesity. There is considerable effort to develop drugs that are active against ATX, as this enzyme has a fundamental role in multiple diseases.

"If future studies show that ATX-Red AR-2 is as effective and safe as we think it is, this tool could be used to improve human health in several ways," said Dr. Damian Madan, lead author on the PLOS ONE publication. "Physicians could locate tumors more easily and determine if therapies are effective.”

Continued research of ATX-Red AR-2 demonstrates applications in tumor and arthritis treatment, as worldwide collaboration expands the potential of this technology.

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