Tiny bubbles, big possibilities for Tacoma's Revalesio
Amid the industrial dust and rust of the last century, in the shadow of Tacoma’s Murray Morgan Bridge, a medical revolution brews.
Think of a bunch of very, very tiny bubbles – each with a diameter about 1/100,000th the width of a human hair.
The company conducting research into these nanobubbles – and their applications – is called Revalesio, which is a combination of words meaning to restore and to hope.
The company was founded nearly a decade ago by Eric Russell, son of George and Jane Russell, with George being the son of Frank Russell, who founded the Frank Russell Co., which later became Russell Investments, a financial firm which for several decades operated from headquarters in Tacoma.
Eric Russell first became aware of the possibilities offered by nanobubbles when on a visit to Texas, according to Revalesio Chief Science Officer and physician Richard Watson, he met a man “who had an interesting technology for helping to grow plants.”
The initial applications were agricultural – increasing the hydroponic yields of lettuce, tomatoes and beets.
Since 2004, the applications and expectations have expanded.
Think asthma, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, wound care, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, cancer.
Researchers at major institutions worldwide have conducted research funded by Revalesio.
The results look promising.
Think cure. Think hope.
WHAT IT IS
The primary product being tested is called RNS60.
It is, according to a news release from the company, “a therapeutic that alters whole cell conductance through effects on voltage-gated ion channels and other voltage-sensing proteins, thereby modulating the activity of G protein-coupled receptors and the secretion of cytokines and adhesion molecules. RNS60 contains charge-stabilized nanostructures (CSN) that are created by subjecting normal saline to Taylor-Couett-Poiseuille flow.”
Or, said Watson, who holds up a small glass container of the stuff, “We have this neat fluid.”
It’s a normal saline solution that has been suffused with oxygen. That’s it. No nasty chemicals, no toxic drugs.
Saltwater and oxygen.
And it shouldn’t work.
So says New Scientist Magazine, in an article this month called “The wonder-working bubbles that physics can’t explain.”
Primarily focused on the use of nanobubbles to cleanse a heavily polluted Chinese lake, the article begins, “Nanobubbles can revive polluted lakes, clean computer chips and might even make wonder drugs. Not bad considering they shouldn’t exist.”
The physics controlling those little bubbles shouldn’t work, but somehow they do.
The article quotes Vincent Craig, a researcher of nanotechnology at the Australian National University in Canberra.
“When I first heard about (Revalesio), I thought they might be crazy or quacks,” he said. “But I’ve spent some time working with them, and I’m quite impressed with them as scientists.”
HOW IT WORKS
That’s the problem. It looks like RNS60 works, but researchers aren’t sure why.
They know, after safety trials, that it is not toxic and that it offers no serious side effects.
They believe, after research using animals, that it can have a positive effect on certain diseases.
But they don’t know how it works.
“When we test different drugs, medicines, we know about their mode of action. Here it is simply like a modified saline. It’s hard to find out exactly what it is doing,” said Kalipada Pahan, a professor at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Pahan has conducted research into the effect of RNS60 on Parkinson’s disease.
“We found it was kind of showing protective effects in animal models,” he said last week.
“If you see our recent publication in the Journal of Biological Chemistry – how this modified saline may improve the brain in MS (multiple sclerosis), PD (Parkinson’s disease) or AD (Alzheimer’s disease) or other neurodegenerative (disorders). ...”
That article would be “Suppression of nuclear factor-kappa B activation and inflammation in microglia by a physically-modified saline,” published in June.
Jesse Thomas, business development officer at Revalesio, said the company has eight research projects under way in three countries: United States, Australia and the Netherlands.
There is a Phase II clinical trial of RNS60 in asthma ongoing, and a Phase II clinical trial concerning multiple sclerosis is scheduled to begin later this year.
Since 2006, the company has sponsored more than 200 research projects, in five countries, in conjunction with more than 15 universities and individual researchers.
Initial funding derived from Eric Russell’s family resources, and the company recently received $10 million from Pacific Northwest angel investors – with an eye to finding $10 million more.
The goal, said Watson, the chief science officer, is to provide proof-of-concept human data concerning the effects of RNS60.
“And then we would partner with big pharma or midlevel pharma,” he said.
Major pharmaceutical companies have the resources to fund and conduct the large-scale human trials that might ultimately lead – after peer review and approval from federal regulators – to RNS60 entering the marketplace.
Watson said Revalesio has had contact with pharmaceutical companies.
“We have ongoing discussions,” he said.
Eric Russell was traveling and unavailable for comment last week, but he did offer a written statement.
“I lost my mother to cancer several years ago,” he said. “Watching her fight life-threatening illness deeply impacted my life. Our whole family was shaped by her journey. My wife and I see Revalesio as an opportunity to help people like my mom with serious disease.”
He continued, “We can now see our technology has the potential to help restore hope to patients fighting life-threatening illness. We are excited to see Revalesio’s research translate into products for people in the years to come.”
So that’s one possibility – that this product can ameliorate the effects of disease.
Add the agricultural possibilities.
And another effect, with Revalesio being Tacoma’s only biotech research and manufacturing facility, is the effect on the area itself.
Watson spoke of future partnerships with University of Washington Tacoma and Urban Waters.
“That appeals to us,” he said.
And beyond the synergy, he said, “I think this means real jobs, and that means tech jobs.”
“A company like that serves as a seed that can grow tremendously,” said Gary Brackett, manager for business development at the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.
“It is always extraordinarily difficult to establish a nexus for such industries in a community,” he said. “The surest road to establishing an industry is to have it to be homegrown. That effort led to the Silicon Valley being what it is, and the Microsoft complex in King County.”
“This could be the birth of an industry in Pierce County,” said Denise Dyer, director of the Pierce County Department of Economic Development.
Rob Allen, senior economic development specialist at the county office, said he was unaware of any other private biotechnology research and manufacturing firms hereabouts. He did name the Department of Clinical Investigations at Madigan Army Medical Center, which looks to be the only other facility doing such research, beyond drug testing, in Pierce County.
Neither Brackett, Dyer nor Allen had heard of Revalesio last week.
There’s a reason.
“I think we’ve been very careful. We’ve kept our heads down,” said Watson. “We want to do the work, we didn’t want to venture out. The credibility is there now, and we can tell the story. We feel like this is real. It just takes time to get the work done.”
“For us, it’s about doing the diligent science and trying to stay away for the hyperbole,” said Jesse Thomas, the company’s business development officer.
“We want to be rigorous,” said Watson. “How many times has Alzheimer’s been cured in mice? We can’t allow ourselves to get ahead of the science.”
“We’re fighting 50 years of bogus water science,” he said. “Everybody says 1-800-I’ve-Got-the-Cure.”
With $10 million from angel investors, the company has accomplished two goals. First, it has received money that will aid in funding research. If the second round of another $10 million is received, the company can complete two research trials.
Also, said Watson, the investments give Revalesio credibility.
Having investors beyond the Russell family, he said, “validates to the marketplace what we’re doing,” as the new investors would have done their own external due diligence.
And should the trials prove successful, and if the studies are well-received, and if RNS60 does work, well, that’s the revolution.
“We live in a research-and-development world for pharmaceuticals that is out of control,” Watson said. “It’s just not sustainable. This could change the economic landscape as well as the way health care functions. We are at the right place at the right time.”
Still, he knows the science comes first.
“I continue to be a skeptic,” he said.
He sees the implications.
“This is totally exciting. This is revolutionary. I think it’s going to be recognized as a breakthrough. If it is what it says it is, it will change the game.”
Founder: Eric Russell, president and CEO
Location: Near downtown Tacoma on east side of the Thea Foss Waterway
Research projects: More than 200 in several countries.
Funding: Russell family investments; recent infusion of $10 million by angel investors, company seeking $10 million more.
Product: RNS60 is a saline solution containing “nanobubbles” of oxygen.
What it does: Testing confirms the safety; further studies and trials may lead to commercial availability. RNS60 is a new treatment for neurodegenerative and other diseases.
Public availability: None until tests confirm efficacy and regulators approve manufacture and distribution.
For more information: revalesio.com
The water: A Revalesio subsidiary, Reliant Beverage Co., produces a bottled water for athletes. For more information visit relianthydration.com
Revalesio Ministries: The Tacoma religious group changed its name to Project Mobilize, based in Spokane, and was formally dissolved as of Aug. 1, 2011, according to the Washington secretary of state. The ministry was a personal interest of Eric Russell and bears no relation to the corporation, a spokesman said.