The young biotech spin-off gains momentum with a VLAIO grant and an investor award
Aelin Therapeutics announced today that it has been awarded close to 1M EUR in non-dilutive funding from the Flemish Government through Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO) to explore its proprietary Pept-inTM technology for high-value targets implicated in oncology.
Pursuing “undruggable” cancer targets
Aelin Therapeutics plans to pursue those targets that have historically been considered undruggable; more specifically, a wide range of challenging biological targets in the field of oncology. They believe their Pept-inTM technology can succeed where, in the past, conventional therapeutic approaches have failed since the technology exploits a completely novel therapeutic approach, inducing protein aggregation to knock-down the function of specific target proteins.
“We are grateful for VLAIO’s financial support that will enable us work towards well sought-after, high-value targets and develop therapeutics for cancer patients who currently still lack effective treatment options,” says CEO Els Beirnaert. “It will allow us to explore a second dedicated drug development program, this time in oncology. As such, we can diversify the disease focus of our company and will complement our ongoing drug development in the field of antibiotics.” This diversification is of tremendous importance for the future value of Aelin Therapeutics as it has the ambition to commercially exploit the Pept-inTM technology for various therapeutic applications. The VLAIO grant will allow the budding biotech company to switch into a higher gear.
The Switch lab at VIB-KU Leuven, on which research the company is based, is also the research partner in this project and will examine the mode of action of identified Pept-insTM, a crucial aspect in further elucidating the Pept-inTM potential. “This will help expand the knowledge base related to this groundbreaking technology and will benefit future programs in other disease areas as well” says prof Frederic Rousseau heading the Switch Lab together with prof Joost Schymkowitz.
Roll out the red carpet
Aelin Therapeutics has the ambition to become a true platform company exploiting different programs for additional disease indications based on its unique features and has firmly positioned itself on the international radar.
Earlier this month, the company received a Life Star Award at the Jefferies 2018 London Healthcare Conference. The jury praised Aelin Therapeutics as a ‘highly innovative company, working in an incredibly important therapeutic area’, with an ‘exciting pipeline with real potential’.
Aelin Therapeutics was founded in 2017 as a spin-off from VIB, KU Leuven, VUB and UGent. Building on a solid scientific base and a convincing data set generated by the founding scientists Joost Schymkowitz and Frederic Rousseau (VIB-KU Leuven), Aelin Therapeutics secured € 27M in a Series A financing, bringing together a strong group of well-reputed investors consisting of LSP (the Netherlands), PMV (Belgium), Novartis Venture Fund (Switzerland), Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (Germany) and Fund+ (Belgium) to explore a novel modality in drug development, namely inducing targeted protein aggregation for the development of new therapeutics.
The technology, branded Pept-insTM, provides a completely new way to design drugs, as it exploits the power of protein aggregation to specifically target proteins implicated in disease. This unexplored concept is ideally suited for development of novel antibiotics, which is currently the primary focus for drug discovery within the company.
Yesterday at the Jefferies 2018 London Healthcare Conference, Aelin Therapeutics has been awarded the Life Stars award for EU Private Finance Raise of the year.
The Jefferies conference is the largest conference focused on healthcare in Europe, celebrating its ninth edition in 2018. This year’s conference took place in London. Last year, the conference hosted more than 400 companies, 1800 attendees and 4,500 business-to-business and investor meetings.
At the 2018 event, Aelin Therapeutics was awarded the prestigious LifeStarts Award in the category “EU Private Finance Raise of the Year”. The jury particularly praised the promising new technology and the great potential impact within a large disease domain.
Fighting antibiotic-resistant or untreatable diseases in an innovative way: that is the mission of Aelin Therapeutics. The company will develop so-called Pept-insTM, a new type of medication that neutralizes ‘bad’ proteins by making them stick together. Founder Prof. Joost Schymkowitz and Prof. Frederic Rousseau (both VIB-KU Leuven) have already proven the success of these designer molecules in bacteria, cancer cells, fungi, viruses and plant cells. Their pioneering studies have been published in leading journals such as Science. The innovative concept, combined with solid science, formed the basis for bringing together an internationally renowned investor consortium in this new spin-off with an initial capital of € 27 million. The international consortium of investors consists of PMV and Fund+ (Belgium), LSP (the Netherlands) and two major corporate funds: the German Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund and the Swiss Novartis Venture Fund.
What makes Pept-insTM stand out is that they can be designed flexibly for different conditions and can also find their ‘target proteins’ in hard-to-reach places. As a result, diseases that traditionally seemed untreatable could be cured.
Aelin Therapeutics will pursue this ambition in two domains. The company will develop antibacterial drugs as an alternative to the traditional antibiotics against which many diseases have become resistant. The start-up also focuses on anti-cancer therapies. The goal is to test the first Pept-inTM-based drugs on patients in the foreseeable future.
Researchers at VIB, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven devised a novel approach to develop antibacterial drugs. With antibiotic resistance on the rise worldwide, such new drugs are urgently needed. The Flemish biotech spin-off Aelin Therapeutics will exploit the technology to produce new antibiotics for the clinic.
Around the world bacteria are developing new strategies that render them resistant to antibiotics, resulting in an increasing number of patients dying from untreatable infections. Experts now agree that unless we discover new medicines soon, the post-antibiotic era may be upon us, effectively pushing human healthcare back to the 1940s. In particular, a class of bacteria called ‘Gram-negative bacteria’, which include the well-known species E. coli, are causing major problems in our hospitals.
The problem is that most antibiotics that we know today work according to only a few mechanisms of action and so when a bacterium becomes tolerant to one drug, it often becomes tolerant to the whole family. What we need to solve this situation is an entirely new class of drugs that shares no structural or mechanistic similarities with the existing antibiotics.
Prof. Joost Schymkowitz and Prof. Frederic Rousseau of VIB-KU Leuven in collaboration with Prof. Johan Van Eldere of University Hospitals Leuven have gone one step further: they have developed a new way of designing antibiotic drugs that can give rise to many new antibacterial molecules.
These drugs penetrate bacterial cells where they induce a process called protein aggregation. This process resembles what happens when boiling an egg, but now without heat: proteins that normally need to carry out essential functions for the bacteria – such as digesting their food – clump together and can no longer carry out their work. As this affects many proteins in the bacterial cell all at once, the bacteria rapidly succumb and die.
In a recent publication in the highly regarded scientific journal Nature Communications, the scientists reveal novel molecules with a strong antibacterial (bactericidal) activity against Gram-negative bacteria.
The technology will now be further explored and exploited by the Flemish start-up Aelin Therapeutics. Founded last December after attracting 27 million Euro in investments, this biotech company uses the protein aggregation approach (PeptinTM-technology) devised by Schymkowitz and Rousseau to develop new therapeutics.
Via Aelin Therapeutics the lab findings will be applied to generate many more antibacterial molecules. The company aims to apply the same technology to target a wide array of other diseases.
Aggregating sequences that occur in many proteins constitute weak spots of bacterial proteostasis, Khodaparast et al., Nature Communications 2018
The Switch Laboratory was supported by grants from the European Research Council
under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme ERC Grant agreement
647458 (MANGO) to JS and VLAIO (IWT, SBO grant 60839)
Questions from patients
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New VIB start-up Aelin Therapeutics secures 27 M€ to exploit its proprietary Pept-in™ protein knockdown platform
Aelin Therapeutics, a privately held Belgian biotherapeutics company, announces today that it has secured a 27 M€ investment to pioneer a novel modality in drug development in order to create a completely new class of antibiotics and first-in-class therapeutics against high-value undruggable human targets. The technology, branded Pept-ins™, harnesses the power of protein aggregation to specifically induce functional knockdown of a target protein. The company will use the proceeds of the 27 M€ Series A financing, to bring a first Pept-in product to the clinic.
Aelin Therapeutics is founded by VIB and its partner universities KU Leuven, VUB and UGent, based on the groundbreaking work of renowned structural biologists Prof Joost Schymkowitz and Prof Frederic Rousseau. The company is based on a very comprehensive preclinical Proof of Concept data package illustrating different applications of the technology such as in bacteria and cancer cells, but also in fungi, viruses and plant cells, with publications in high impact journals including Science. The Pept-in technology allows for the rational design of novel biotherapeutics and differentiates itself from any other therapeutic modality through its unique mode of action, its designability and intracellular target space out of reach for typical small molecule or antibody approaches.
Building on the solid science and a convincing data set, Aelin Therapeutics has succeeded in raising 27 M€, bringing together a strong group of well-reputed investors consisting of LSP (the Netherlands), PMV (Belgium), Novartis Venture Fund (Switzerland), Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (Germany) andFund+ (Belgium). These resources enable the company to build on its platform capabilities and develop its first products until the end of initial clinical development.