Unlike white fat, which stores energy, brown fat burnsstored calories. Small mammals and human infants, with a high ratio of surfacearea to volume, have large amounts of brown fat to protect them from extremecold, but adults lose most of their brown fat stores to maximize metabolicefficiency. This efficiency allowed early humans to survive when food was not plentiful.However, in abundant food environments, it is actually a major contributor tothe current epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease.
Research on BMP7 technology was led by Drs. Yu-Hua Tseng,Aaron Cypess and C. Ronald Kahn of Harvard Medical School and the JoslinDiabetes Center, and is detailed in a key 2008 Nature paper outlining the important role of BMP7 in promotingbrown fat precursor cells. Kahn is also a scientific co-founder of Ember. Amongthe paper's important findings were that brown fat can increase energy expenditure and protect against obesitythrough a specialized program of uncoupled respiration. The authors reportedthat brown, but not white, fat cells arise from precursors that express Myf5, a gene previously thought to beexpressed only in the myogenic lineage.
According to Dr. Louis Tartaglia, president and interim CEOof Ember and partner at Third Rock Ventures LLC, it has been reported thatadult humans still have about 60 grams of brown fat along with importantprecursors, one of which is irisin, a naturally-occurring hormone that hasdemonstrated the ability to stimulate brown fat development in white fat cellsand mimic some of the beneficial effects of exercise. The Naturepublication outlined how even relatively short treatments of obese mice withirisin caused an increase in energy expenditure with no changes in activitylevels or food intake, resulting in improved glucose homeostasis and weightloss.
Ember has exclusively licensed this irisin technology fromthe Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and is optimizing and developing a proprietarymolecule designed to augment and activate the body's brown fat. Beyond irisin,Ember plans to develop a broad pipeline of large and small molecule programsthat augment and activate the body's brown fat, amplifying the natural abilityto efficiently burn fuel stores such as glucose and lipids to reduce storedcalories in the body. Already,several proprietary proteins have been identified that increase brown fatlevels and consequently have positive impacts on metabolic disease. The smallmolecule program, which is in the screening stage, is several years out,Tartaglia says.
In addition to irisin, "We are continuing to build ourportfolio of key brown fat intellectual property, and this BMP7 technologydiscovered by one of our co-founders is an important and strategic addition,"Tartaglia states. "We are pleased to expand our brown fat pipeline and furtherpursue our research into BMP7."
"BMP7 is an exciting target for brown fat because it hasbeen shown to promote brown fat differentiation and thermogenesis in vivo and in vitro," said Kahn. "At the Joslin, one of our goals is topartner with industry to translate academic discoveries into potentialtreatments for the benefit of patients. I look forward to further advancingresearch into this promising target and a potential new therapeutic approachfor the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes."
In addition to the licensing agreement, Joslin will conduct researchservices for Ember through Joslin Technologies, an accelerator group within theinstitution that works with industry partners.