Thursday, September 22, 2022
Dr. Suchismita Acharya has been with the UNT System since 2016 as a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Neuroscience and North Texas Eye Research Institute campus at HSC in Fort Worth. In 2020, Dr. Acharya was promoted to Assistant Professor.
Currently, she advises Ph.D. students, teaches, and conducts new drug discovery research
for glaucoma, and neuroprotection. Before arriving at the HSC School of Biomedical Sciences in Fort Worth, Dr. Acharya had already started the company AyuVis Research, Inc., a drug discovery immunotherapy program with two others. The company focuses
on finding molecule answers to treat inflammatory and infectious diseases. Coming
to HSC, providing Dr. Acharya with a new home to continue her drug discovery research in multiple therapeutic areas.
Find out more about Dr. Acharya's passion for discovering solutions to problems of
antibiotic resistance to drugs and targeting to solve previously failed medical treatments for
preventing and treating acute and chronic eye and lung diseases.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
As a professor: Training/mentoring young scientists/students in basic/clinical/translational research and advising/teaching them. I like to see them succeed in their professional life and bring new innovations.
As a founder/entrepreneur: Finding the right team member and creating a positive working atmosphere to keep them excited, committed to the projects and working for the company.
What led you to your particular field of study/expertise?
As a child, I was always curious, and interested to be a scientist. I am blessed to come from a family that constantly guides/advises and supports me to shape my career goals. I was always curious about innovation and new things and was very fond of reading biographies and autobiographies of scientists, and philosophers to feed my intellectual curiosity. The credit to being a pharmaceutical researcher evolved over many years beginning with my inspiring teacher in Organic Chemistry during my master’s degree in India and exposure to groundbreaking basic and industrial research happening at the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology where I earned my Ph.D. degree. I came to the USA to gain further experience in Pharmaceutical Research at UTSWMC as a post-doctoral researcher and continued getting fascinated by the resource, and the expertise of the mentors that led me to land my first industry job at Alcon Research. My 12 years with Alcon were productive with numerous professional development opportunities in drug discovery and development specifically focused on small molecule research. I love small molecules because I feel like I can completely understand them, and their nature, and control the way I want to bring a new drug product/therapy. Most of the small molecules have easy manufacturing for scale up than macromolecules like proteins, antibodies, or a gene.
You have a lot of experience as an inventor with pharmaceutical and academic drug discovery in oncology, ophthalmology, cardiovascular, neuroscience, and inflammation. Your research has helped elevate UNT as a Tier 1 research university. Can you explain how AyuVis started and its relationship and benefit to HSC and TechFW?
Thank you for the kind word and compliments. I founded AyuVis in 2014 along with 2
of my other co-founders, and that was long before I was associated with UNTHSC (2016).
However, when I joined the business incubator TechFW in 2016 to grow my business and seek investment, I came to know about their partnership
with UNTHSC and the Acceleration lab incubator program. I was actively looking for
lab space and instruments and it was a good fit. In 2017, AyuVis received the first
NIH Phase-1 SBIR grant, and we started renting space, hired our first research scientist,
and participated in UNTHSC’s A-Lab program. Since then, we are here conducting research,
collaborating with UNTHSC preclinical service and other professors and in 2021, UNTHSC
offered us an equity-based partnership and access to more amenities/core facilities
to accommodate/support our growth. Together now, our goal is to go to the next level
and attract strategic partners to work with AyuVis to commercialize our technology
to a product.
How did you develop the name ‘AyuVis?’
The word ‘AyuVis’ came from traditional Indian medicine ‘Ayurveda’* and Vis is my vision and also means drug discovery for visual science/ophthalmology which is my core expertise.
It looks like more doors are opened for you regarding AyuVis funding and projects that can revolutionize the prevention and treatment of life-threatening inflammatory diseases. Congratulation on the recent announcement of AyuVis being chosen for the MassChallenge Accelerator 2022 Cohort. Can you talk about how many products are in your pipeline and how they will impact treatment and immunotherapy in the present and future?
Thank you! AyuVis Research is a near clinical stage Pharmaceutical. AyuVis is developing a new, third-generation of immunotherapies that stimulate macrophages to control inflammation and infection by targeting the innate immune system. The advantage of targeting the innate immune system is two-fold. First, white blood cells (PBMCs), the foundation of the innate immune system, are constantly in circulation ready to rapidly reach the site of injury or infection. Second, our research shows AyuVis compounds can rapidly activate these cells to control inflammation from injury or infection, fight pathogenic microbes, and promote healing.
Just as antibiotics revolutionized the treatment of infections, AyuVis compounds will revolutionize the prevention and treatment of life-threatening inflammatory & infectious diseases. AyuVis is pioneering innovative immunotherapies via recharging the natural immune system with an initial focus on preventing the death of over 1,000 premature US babies every year resulting from chronic lung injury from inflammation. The USFDA has granted Orphan Drug and Rare Pediatric Disease Drug Designations to the lead compound, AVR-48, for the prevention of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), a chronic lung injury and inflammatory condition, in at-risk preterm infants. AyuVis has already received 3 NIH/SBIR grants ($2.1M total) and funding from private investors/family offices. AyuVis' compounds and methods of use are covered by 2 patents approved in the US and more countries along with 2 more recently filed patents.
AyuVis’ lead compound, AVR-48, has demonstrated an excellent safety profile, speed of therapeutic response, and cost-effective manufacturing. In parallel to the lead BPD program, AyuVis will develop AVR-48 and a whole pipeline of compounds for other diseases in a variety of therapeutic areas. Because AyuVis' compounds act on macrophages in the innate immune system, they are not limited to one disease or organ. AyuVis hopes to make an impact in preventing and treating ventilator-associated pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), peritonitis, bacterial skin and lung infection, ocular and lung fibrosis, retinopathy of prematurity, age-related macular degeneration, acute kidney injury, acute lung injury, necrotizing enterocolitis, & systemic inflammatory response syndrome associated w/ infections (sepsis). We have gathered excellent preclinical results for these indications I just mentioned. AyuVis' immunotherapies could save or improve thousands upon thousands of lives where there is a cumulative market potential of $100B+. Yes, I and my team are very excited to go to clinic soon.
Also, is there one thing you see next as the next most exciting area regarding opportunities for you, AyuVis, and HSC?
I am constantly exploring opportunities for academic collaborations with UNTHSC faculties, and we are expecting to grow those relationships over the year. I also see young budding students and scientists interested in learning more about our research and what it looks like to work with a pharmaceutical company, so expecting more students to participate in our scientific/business internship programs. We have trained several interns from TCU in the past 6-7 years and several high schools through Master level students from local schools/colleges and UNTHSC in our laboratory research internship program.
Do you have any favorite or memorable experiences connected to your time at HSC as a teacher?
Absolutely. There are many proudest moments, the proudest moment as a teacher and thesis advisor was my first Ph.D. student passing his thesis proposal defense with exceeding expectations. I felt I did a good job mentoring him and he did a good job implementing. I feel teaching is always a two-way process.
What is your proudest work moment?
Receiving my first all 5 years research grant (MPI R01) in 2019 from National Eye Institute/NIH at UNTHSC and the direct to phase-II SBIR grant from the National Institute of Child Health Development for AyuVis in 2022 are my proudest moments at work. My transition from a pharmaceutical career to an academic and start-up career was really a stiff curve and was quite challenging. Successful raising of grant funding followed by private investor funding for AyuVis proved that success follows tenacity and sincerity.
What is your proudest non-work moment?
I am very proud and grateful of my family, and thankful to my husband who traveled (ing) hand in hand with me on this long journey. My proudest moment was when my older daughter got into Baylor University with Scholship, and the younger one made it to the School and Club volleyball teams. I try to seek happiness in every little thing around me.
Do you have any (professional or personal) recommendations that you would like to share?
Follow your heart, be diligent about what you do, and believe in yourself. There will always be someone to tell you what you are doing is not right and dissuade you, but there will be people to encourage you as well. So, pick your friends carefully.
What is a fact about you that may surprise your colleagues?
Nothing. I am a very easy-going, planned person, and predictable.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE
Book: The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. This book constantly reminds me that how fickle our mind – that likes to roam around in past and worry about the future rather than focusing on the very present with all of the people, and blessings we have right now.
Movie:? The pursuit of Happiness. Yes, Chris Gardner’s circumstances are so close to any startup entrepreneur.
TV Show:? Everyone Loves Raymond. What’s there to dislike?
Hobby:? Listening to classical instrumental soothes my mind, releases my tension, and keeps me focused. Any Rag (rythmic composition) played in sitar is my favorite. One of the many masters is Pandit Ravishankar and his daughter Anouska Shankar's performance.
Charitable cause:? I am involved with a few charity organizations, including an international rescue
mission and with a non-profit organization, my close friend, my husband, and I started
to provide educational expenses/support through Light Beyond Vision to the vision impaired students to complete their college degrees in India. The goal
is to make them eligible to find a job and be independent.
* Ayurveda – the traditional Hindu system of medicine, which is based on the idea of balance in bodily systems and uses diet, herbal treatment, and yogic breathing