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New Company Will Seek Drugs Against Diabetes and Cancer

A new St. Louis-based company will use a novel technology to rapidly screen thousands of drugs for their effectiveness against two of the biggest health threats// in the United States — diabetes and cancer.

Ross Cagan, Ph.D., professor of molecular biology and pharmacology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Thomas Baranski, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, will head the new company, Medros Inc. The company's technology can identify drugs with medical benefit by capitalizing on extensive information currently available about fruit fly biology and genetics.

Launched with the joint backing of the School of Medicine and BioGenerator, a nonprofit group formed to help spawn biotech companies from university research, Medros will soon begin operation in the Center for Emerging Technologies.

The company arose from a collaboration between Cagan and Baranski, who is also an endocrinologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Cagan showed Baranski a method developed in his lab for determining if a drug could correct abnormal development in the eyes of fruit flies. Impressed with the concept, Baranski asked if it could be adapted to screen for drugs that could alleviate the complications of diabetes.

"People with diabetes can go blind, their kidneys can fail and their nerves can die," says Baranski. "We don't have any good drugs for counteracting these effects. We know that high blood sugar contributes to these problems, so I went to Ross and asked if his fruit fly system could uncover why high glucose can be toxic."

This challenge led to a full-fledged screening system in which fruit flies, grown from eggs to adults in tiny chambers, serve as indicators of a drug's effect. In this instance, if a fruit fly can grow normally on a high sugar diet in the presence of a particular drug, the drug could potentially lessen the toxicity of high sugar in diabetics, according to Baranski.

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