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In what may be the ultimate affirmation of “you are what you eat,” an innovative Charlotte-area company is merging high-tech genomic testing with personalized nutritional formulations to treat individual medical conditions.

The company, SNP Therapeutics (pronounced “snip”), was formed a year ago in labs at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis. It applies high-tech analysis of patients’ genomes to identify genetic variants that cause disease – genetic misspellings technically known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs.

Once the company identifies the targeted SNP, it designs and evaluates personalized medical food preparations to treat each patient’s metabolic disorder.

The company founder, Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., is a world-renowned expert on nutrition and brain development.

Steve Zeisel
Steve Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D.

In 2012 the North Carolina Biotechnology Center supported Zeisel’s research with a $100,000 grant to fund a postdoctoral researcher in developing specialized nutritional products. Zeisel is the Kenan distinguished professor of nutrition and co-director of nutrition and obesity research at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s also director of UNC’s Nutrition Research Institute located at the NCRC.

Now NCBiotech has again boosted Zeisel’s work, by awarding SNP Therapeutics with the Presidential Initiative Award through an $80,000 grant that will be dispersed through the Economic Development Award program by the City of Kannapolis to support the company’s headquarters location there. The Biotech Center has been active in leading a statewide collaborative effort to keep North Carolina in the forefront of the burgeoning precision medicine sector, and SNP Therapeutics is a high-profile example.

“This grant provides an innovative way to fund company retention and relocation, in this case, in our growing life-science cluster in the Greater Charlotte Region,” explained Corie Curtis, executive director of NCBiotech’s Greater Charlotte Office.

Zeisel agreed, adding, “This vote of confidence from NCBiotech for the first company spun out from the UNC Nutrition Research Institute is a great help. The Institute focuses on gene-guided nutrition and SNP Therapeutics is translating this work to new medical foods and genetic tests that will help many people.”

Jon Kleu, SNP Therapeutics CEO, added, “As SNP Therapeutics launches our company, the partnerships with NCBiotech, the City of Kannapolis, and the North Carolina Research Campus are invaluable. This award will assist with ongoing product development work and provide opportunities for the company to build out the infrastructure to support the work bringing new jobs to the Charlotte region. We believe our precision gene-guided approach in the medical food industry will be the first of its kind and will benefit many patients and provide treatment for a number of different medical conditions.”

CEO Jon Kleu
CEO Jon Kleu

“The award recognition alone should help us to raise additional funding from many of the strategic and venture capital partners we have engaged,” Kleu said. “They understand the value of receiving this level of support from NCBiotech.”

A $1 million investment from the venture capital firm Coddle Creek Capital represents the first institutional funding for SNP Therapeutics. Kleu said the company is also in discussions with a variety of major global corporations that are interested in their precision gene guided approach to personalized nutrition.

“There is strong interest in the personalized nutrition business segment and many of these companies are racing to find competitive advantages in precision nutrition,” he said, noting that “Dr. Zeisel’s reputation and connections as a scientific advisor to many of these large companies has been invaluable to opening many doors of opportunity for SNP Therapeutics.”

SNP is initially developing four medical food products and one prenatal supplement. Each will have a specific genetic test to identify the appropriate patients for the products. SNP Therapeutics researches diseases and medical conditions in areas currently without viable treatment options or very few therapy options to treat the medical problem.

The first four medical food products will help to address some of these areas of unmet need: fatty liver, muscle wasting, sarcopenia (muscle loss associated with aging), and sperm motility disorders.

The company’s first supplement will identify women who have difficulty during pregnancy in properly producing or utilizing choline and other so-called “1-carbon” molecules that are critical to proper fetal development during pregnancy and lactation. A 1-carbon molecule is an organic compound containing one carbon atom with other atoms attached to it.

Kleu said the company has a number of additional therapies and genetic tests in development for the second wave of products it plans to bring to market. “And there are hundreds of known areas of metabolism that will be explored through our R&D process,” he said.

The Greater Charlotte region is home to some 60 life science companies employing nearly 1,500 people, and nearly 400 additional companies that provide direct support to them. The region also has some 80 medical device companies.

NCRC Core Lab building
NCRC Core Lab building

The nearby NCRC is a unique public/private partnership involving eight North Carolina universities, numerous companies, and community partners focused on researching and developing safer, more-nutritious crops, healthier foods, and precision nutrition.

“This award program is an important tool for NCBiotech to use in bringing life to life science economic development projects statewide,” said Bill Bullock, NCBiotech senior vice president of economic development and statewide operations. “It can serve as the glue to fasten partnerships that help keep North Carolina moving forward as a global life science leader.”

The NC Food Innovation Lab, a collaboration involving North Carolina State University, NCRC and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, is scheduled to open this summer at NCRC.

Kleu said SNP plans to start adding staff, and expects to work with numerous North Carolina partners as it expands its operations.

“We are excited for this next phase of the North Carolina Research Campus,” said Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant. “A decade of research is now paying off with real-life applications that can help people around the world. We welcome SNP Therapeutics and are here to cheerlead them on as they begin production.”

Mark Spitzer, president for North Carolina operations with Castle & Cooke, added, “We at the North Carolina Research Campus want to congratulate SNP Therapeutics and to thank the North Carolina Biotech Center for bestowing this prestigious award that recognizes Dr. Zeisel’s groundbreaking research into the health impact of choline and his partnership with CCC to create SNP Therapeutics. We believe that SNP Therapeutics is the first of what will be many entrepreneurial ventures derived from research conducted at the NCRC to improve human health and well-being.”