Two members of the University of Pittsburgh’s legendary Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics have been named Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors.
Joseph Glorioso is an acknowledged pioneer of the field of gene therapy. Startups founded from his research have raised more than $200 million and his engineered viral vectors are proceeding toward and through clinical trials for treatment of cancer and other diseases.
Ronald Montelaro, Professor Emeritus, has dedicated his career to discovering effective strategies to overcome the challenge of mutating viruses, which complicate vaccine development. A company formed from his research, Peptilogics Inc., raised $34.5 million in 2020, to fund the company as it proceeds through clinical trials for its therapy to treat and prevent prosthetic joint infections.
Glorioso and Montelaro are the 11th and 12th Pitt faculty to be named NAI Fellows since its inaugural class in 2015.
The NAI Fellows program highlights academic inventors who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society. The 169 members of the 2022 Fellow class hail from 110 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes worldwide. They collectively hold over 5,000 issued U.S. patents.
“Pitt innovators are renowned for forging new paths in their research and translating that work into innovations that address the world’s most urgent challenges. Joe Glorioso and Ronald Montelaro are giants in their fields who have dedicated their lives to unlocking the mysteries of the body’s immune system and engineering solutions for treating infection and disease. Their selection as Fellows of the National Academy of Inventors confirms their status among the most accomplished scientist/inventors in the world,” said Evan Facher, Vice Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Associate Dean for Commercial Translation at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
The Pitt Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics has roots in the 1950s, when the Department of Biochemistry was led by Klaus Hoffmann, a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of peptide hormones, upon whose work Dr. Montelaro has built. The Department of Microbiology was led for four years, from 1962-1966, by Nils Jerne, who performed early studies on monoclonal antibodies at Pitt. He was later awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1984 for iterations of that work. The merged Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology was chaired by Julius Youngner, who had worked alongside Jonas Salk to develop the first polio vaccine.
Dr. Glorioso assumed leadership of the renamed Department of Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry in 1989. He is acknowledged as one of the originators of the field of gene therapy. As an inventor, Dr. Glorioso’s track record at Pitt is nearly unparalleled. His 23 U.S. patents, all of which have been licensed, rank him in the top handful of innovators in the University’s history.
Dr. Glorioso groundbreaking work has centered on the design and application of both replicating and non-replicating herpes simplex virus (HSV) vectors for the treatment of human disease, ranging from the treatment of cancer to the treatment of peripheral nerve pain. The innovations developed by Dr. Glorioso’s lab are poised to impact thousands of lives.
Multiple clinical trials are underway at Oncorus Inc., a company formed around Dr. Glorioso’s discoveries and where he serves as scientific adviser. The company has raised $154 million in equity prior to an initial public stock offering and recently opened a 188,000 square foot facility in Andover, MA, for the manufacture of gene therapies. The company’s lead candidate, ONCR-177, is designed to mount a multidimensional attack on solid cancer tumors of various types by both inducing cancer cell death, as well as igniting innate and adaptive immunity to drive a lasting and systemic anti-tumor response.
In total, six startups have been formed around discoveries from Dr. Glorioso’s lab. The most recent, Replay Bio, has created a standalone portfolio company, Eudora, around an HSV vector developed by Dr. Glorioso and licensed from Pitt. It is the first of four companies it intends to form around the technology and is intended to treat genetic eye diseases.
Dr. Montelaro carried on the legacy of Jonas Salk, serving as co-director of the Pitt Center for Vaccine Research from 2006-2016 and for 25 years he was director of the Peptide Synthesis Core Genomics and Proteomics Labs, where he became a global pioneer in the development of novel antimicrobial engineered cationic amphipathic peptides (eCAPs) that can neutralize a wide spectrum of bacteria and viruses. He holds 22 patents, eight of which have been licensed.
The threat posed by multi-drug resistant bacteria is a serious threat to public health. A startup company formed by Dr. Montelaro’s research, Peptilogics Inc., recently began a Phase 1B trial of its lead compound to address persistent bacterial pathogens. The therapy has been granted FDA Orphan Drug Fast Track and Qualified Infectious Disease designations for the treatment of periprosthetic joint infections (PJIs).
PJIs are difficult to treat and have failure rates as high as 50 percent, resulting in additional surgery, amputation or death. Peptilogics is engineering peptide therapeutic candidates to improve the treatment landscape for patients with life threatening diseases using novel artificial intelligence algorithms.
Dr. Montelaro’s impact also extends to his mentoring of the next generations of Pitt innovators, having mentored 22 master’s and doctoral students and 35 postdoctoral fellows.