Talk about regenerative medicine and potential drug for COVID-19

Cymbeline “Bem” Culiat, co-founder, president and chief science officer of NellOne Therapeutics Inc. in Knoxville and a former molecular geneticist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will speak virtually to Friends of ORNL at noon Tuesday, Feb. 8.

She will speak on “Future Applications in Regenerative Medicine” and part of her talk will be devoted to a potential treatment for sufferers of severe COVID-19 and for “long haulers,” those people who have kept severe symptoms for a long time after having had the novel coronavirus.

While at ORNL, Culiat discovered the role of the NELL1 signaling protein in fostering the growth and maturation of musculoskeletal and cardiovascular tissues in mice and other mammals, including humans. Her biotech company focuses on using her discovery to advance regenerative medicine, which involves replacing, engineering or regenerating human or animal cells, tissues or organs to promote healing and restore normal function. In contrast, traditional medicine typically provides treatment of symptoms rather than addressing root causes.

To view the virtual lecture, click on the talk title on the homepage of the www.fornl.org website and click on the Zoom link near the top of the page describing the lecture.

Culiat’s talk

Here is Culiat’s summary of what she will talk about.

“The global community is addressing the third year of a constantly changing deadly pandemic that has now claimed at least 5.7 million lives (~883,000 in the United States), overwhelmed the healthcare system, strained government resources and economies, disrupted communities and devastated families. Despite the availability of several vaccines, antivirals and therapeutics, an increasing concern is that the lung and heart tissue damage resulting from infection with the COVID-19 virus is a major cause of death or severe disability in survivors.

“NellOne Therapeutics Inc. (NellOne) is pioneering advances in regenerative medicine that can restore injured tissue to its normal functional state. The NELL1 signaling protein’s healing properties stem from its activity during early mammalian development when an extracellular matrix is ​​produced. This pro-healing environment promotes pathways that regulate inflammation, increase tissue survival under low-oxygen or other adverse conditions, recruit stem cells and enhance blood vessel formation.

“These processes kick-start and sustain the formation and maturation of new tissue that can replace damaged tissues. The biology and tissue-healing properties of the NELL1 protein have been demonstrated in major organ systems, such as bone, cartilage, skin, skeletal muscle, as well as heart muscle and the lungs.

“In 2020, NellOne pivoted and began developing NV1, its proprietary variant of the naturally occurring NELL1, as a recombinant protein drug for healing lung tissue damaged by COVID-19 and other viral infections. Based on promising data from mouse and cultured human lung tissue studies, NellOne is pursuing a fast-track path toward obtaining ultimate approval of the new drug through the FDA’s Coronavirus Treatment Acceleration Program.

“Supported by federal, state and private funding, NellOne Therapeutics is working to meet the milestones for demonstrating the new drug’s efficacy and safety. Our goal is an IND filing (Introduction of a New Drug) of our recombinant protein drug as a “first-in-class” therapeutic for clinical tests on patients suffering from severe viral infections.”

A native of the Philippines who lives in Oak Ridge, Culiat is a biologist, inventor, entrepreneur, author and educator. Her inventions are protected by 24 NELL1 patents (20 UT-Battelle and 4 NellOne-owned), of which 22 have been issued in eight countries. She co-authored the new book “Designed to Heal: What the Body Shows Us about Healing Wounds, Repairing Relationships and Restoring Community” (McLaurin and Culiat 2021, Tyndale Momentum), which is available on Amazon.com.

In 2008, Culiat co-founded NellOne Therapeutics Inc., which has been developing human and veterinary drugs and devices, as well as therapies for lung and heart tissue damage induced by viral infections such as COVID-19 and influenza. She has won many awards in both the US and Philippines, including the Federal Laboratory Consortium Excellence in Technology Transfer award in 2008 and the Department of Science and Technology Outstanding Filipina Scientist in 2015.

In the 1980s she earned a BS degree in cell biology and an MS degree in genetics from the University of the Philippines in Laguna, where she taught genetics, cell biology and molecular biology. In 1994 she received a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and, as a recipient of the prestigious Alexander Hollaender Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship, she completed postdoctoral training in molecular genetics and genomics at ORNL (1995-1999).

She was adjunct faculty of the UTK Graduate School of Genome Sciences and Technology (1999-2009). Long a mentor of science students and young scientists, she received in 2006 the Outstanding Mentor Award from the Department of Energy Office of Science. Currently, she is a guest lecturer at private and public universities and supports STEM education in public schools.