Joresa Blount Contributor
Enterprise & Cloud
Dr. Ram Bhatt, the Founder and Chief Scientist of ICB International, Inc. is one of the few
scientists in the world who has developed technology to overcome the problem of BBB.
Neuroscience has been overwhelmed by the challenges of the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB) and
how to deliver drugs to the brain with minimal invasion for a long time. Nearly 98% of all drugs
do not reach the central nervous system (CNS). BBB permeable drugs that used to ease
neurodegeneration today only treat some of the symptoms, not the root cause. With nearly 100
million Alzheimer’s and more than 12 million Parkinson’s patients in the world, the need for
developing BBB permeable disease halting and curative drugs is needed more than ever before.
Dr. Ram Bhatt, the Founder and Chief Scientist of ICB International, Inc., (“ICBII or ICBI,
Inc.”), is one of the few scientists in the world who has developed technology to overcome the
problem of BBB. Dr. Bhatt has worked extensively to find permeable technology for the
diagnosis and treatment of neural diseases through “SMART Molecules”(SMs). Protected by 5
US and European patents with 4 other pending approval, SMs technology has received three
grant awards from internationally known research foundations and the US Department of Health
and Human Services.
Joresa Blount: ICBII has been working on ending brain diseases ever since its foundation.
Can you walk us through how your team developed SMART Molecules technology?
Dr. Ram Bhatt: Our entire focus has been on non-invasive ways of treating diseases around the
brain, keeping in mind that the blood-brain barrier should be penetrated as minimally and as less
frequently as possible. We first realized the potential of these molecules in our laboratory.
Monoclonal Antibodies seemed less efficient compared to the SMART molecules, which we
designed keeping in mind that they can offer 50 to 150 times greater permeability into the BBB.
With their size, these molecules could also penetrate through cell walls.
The development was also focused around specificity. Proteins that contain the trait of the
diseases in question are targeted with accuracy through the design we use. There’s another
advantage of multitasking that these molecules grant us. One small molecule has the capacity of
binding up to 4 different diseases containing proteins. So our development was primarily focused
around minimal permeation and maximum results.
Joresa: The Michael J.Fox Foundation has played an immense role in financing ICBII’s
aim of finding non-invasive ways to treat neural diseases. How did you get their attention?
Bhatt: Getting noticed by researchers such as Michael J.Fox Foundation came by focusing on
creating something which was not only powerful, but something which could find its way into
the central nervous system without having to be pushed.
After re-engineering the designed molecule over and over again, trying to remove as many
redundant parts in it as possible, I arrived at the smallest possible particle, which was effective. I
contacted Dr. Mesilah at the University of California San Diego to carry out the research for me
in an academic setting where facilities could sell their engineered mice.
Once I designed new antigens and saw the inhibiting impact of the molecules through a number
of PET scans, the Foundation realized the potential of this research. I really appreciate the grants
we have received to date and their continued support.
Joresa: In terms of the technology used, how are the SMART molecules a better option
compared to other therapeutic approaches, such as mechanical invasion?
Bhatt: SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific Molecular Architecture for Recognition
and Therapy. As the name of the technology suggests, the point of making SMART molecules
was to ensure that they did not perform random functions and did exactly as they were
programmed to do. At present, neural diseases are treated with invasive mechanical techniques
or through classical antibodies that find it very difficult to pass through the BBB owing to their
bulky size. Compared to these classical antibodies that have been reported to have brain uptake
of about 0.1%. ICBII’s SMs have a brain uptake of up to 15%.
These SMART molecules are antibody mimics comprised of heavy-chain only. They do not
contain light-chains which the classical antibodies made by humans and animals have. We have
truncated them to a quarter of the size of classical antibodies. Our SMs are very specific in their
approach to disease-specific proteins, minimizing any side effects which can occur as a result of
them being injected. In addition, the chances of them penetrating the BBB are much greater
because of their smaller size, giving it an edge over the “hit or miss” techniques used today.
Finally, as I mentioned before, having up to 4 binding sites can make every single molecule very
productive. Curative drugs become so much more impactful with efficiency, and that is precisely
what SMs hope to deliver better than present techniques.
Joresa: When will the SMART Molecule technology be available to people?
Bhatt: We are hopeful that it will be soon. Already, 5 of our 9 filed patents were approved. With
every result, we are making an impact. We’re trying to excel as fast and as cautiously as we can,
so the final destination, though tough to get to, might not be very far.