Dr. Saira Sheikh of the UNC Thurston Arthritis Research Center and Dr. Nigel Key of the UNC Blood Research Center partnered with local biotech company EpiCypher® for the successful Grant, funded by NIAID. The total award to EpiCypher® is $3 million dollars over three years, with just under a $1 million sub-award to UNC.

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Dr. Saira Sheikh, and Dr. Nigel Key

Dr. Sheikh, who is Principal Investigator of the projects at UNC, has also worked with EpiCypher® to successfully complete two Phase I NIH Small Business Innovation Research Grants.

Together, their team is developing and commercializing a novel blood-based assay that can be used to study and/or diagnose a range of diseases, from rheumatoid arthritis and lupus to cancer-associated venous thromboembolism.

The release of citrullinated nucleosomes into the blood is a promising biomarker that may correlate with disease activity in several autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and lupus), making it a promising blood-accessible biomarker. However, there are no assays capable of reliably quantifying citrullinated nucleosomes in serum or plasma. EpiCypher’s® innovative assay CitNuc™ uses nucleosome-validated antibodies and recombinant designer nucleosome (Cit-dNuc) calibrators to accurately quantify citrullinated nucleosomes directly from human plasma/serum.

This work will result in the commercial launch of a quantitative research and biomarker discovery tool for autoimmune diseases as well as clinical validation studies to determine its suitability for diagnostic purposes.