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Business and Innovation News

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

New spin-off Ahead Therapeutics SL to develop novel therapies for autoimmune diseases

by Rachel Spencer

Ahead Therapeutics SL is the result of a joint research project with a strong nano component between the Germans Trias i Pujol Research Institute (IGTP), the ICN2 and ICREA. It was created to advance the development of therapies for autoimmune diseases and pursue their application in a clinical setting. Just a few months in, the new company has already attracted 1.1 million euros in private investment.

Ahead Therapeutics SL is a new spin-off signed last December between the Germans Trias i Pujol Research Institute (IGTP), the Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2) and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA). The young biotech company is linked to the IGTP Immunology of Diabetes Research Group led by Dr Marta Vives-Pi and to the ICN2 Supramolecular Nanochemistry and Materials Group led by ICREA Research Prof. Daniel Maspoch, where researcher Dr Mary Cano is also based.

The company was established after the researchers generated and proved the efficacy of an immunotherapy approach for treating type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis based on nanotechnology. Specifically, the therapy uses liposomes to halt the self-destructive autoimmune response triggered by such diseases. The company aims to provide the financial and structural framework needed to take these results into the clinical arena and turn them into treatments for these and other autoimmune diseases, which are becoming more and more prevalent.

Just weeks after it was founded, Ahead Therapeutics SL had received support from several investors. Apart from the seed capital, the company has already attracted 1.1 million euros in private funding. "This is truly exceptional", says Nuria Martí, head of Innovation and Technology Transfer at the IGTP. "The fact that it has attracted so much financial interest from the outset makes us very optimistic about the future of the project". In addition to contributions from the partner institutions, the company's creation was made possible thanks to support from ZBM Business Connect and the advice received from the Rousand Costas Duran legal practice.

Immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes 

After five years of published research, the IGTP, ICN2 and ICREA scientists have demonstrated the efficacy of an immunotherapy directed at the autoimmune response. The new approach, tested in animal models with type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, opens the door to therapies that prevent and treat autoimmune diseases.

The therapy uses liposomes to simulate cells in the process of natural cell death, by doing so bringing the immune system's mistaken reaction against the body to a definitive halt. Already in use in medicine, liposomes consist of small drops of liquid surrounded by a fatty exterior, making them very similar to the outside of cells. In the particular case of diabetes, when introduced into the body, the liposomes are able to call off the mistaken attack on the insulin-producing pancreatic cells (beta cells) and prevent the disease from developing.

"Ahead Therapeutics will allow us to develop the product and pursue its use in patients with an autoimmune disease", explains Marta Vives-Pi, IGTP researcher and Ahead Therapeutics shareholder. "This initiative gives us the opportunity to exploit a technology based on encapsulation in liposomes for a wide range of autoimmune diseases", comment fellow shareholders Dr Mary Cano and Prof. Daniel Maspoch of the ICN2. The company will work to make this new form of immunotherapy available to patients, while also refining the products resulting from the technology. "Already tested in type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis, this immune-modulating strategy can be applied to other diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis or celiac disease, because our approach attacks the common origin of these disorders”, affirms Vives-Pi.

Source: Germans Trias i Pujol Research Institute