University of Helsinki: ERC Proof of Concept funding to Assistant Professor Merja Voutilainen and REGENERA

Assistant Professor Merja Voutilainen in the Faculty of Pharmacy has been granted ERC Proof of Concept funding for the REGENERA project. REGENERA will assess the technical and commercial feasibility of a novel and optimised MANF peptide variant as a superior treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

ALS is a fatal neurodegenerative disease affecting 450,000 people worldwide. In ALS, motoneurons selectively degenerate in the brain and spinal cord. ALS is characterised by muscle deterioration that rapidly leads to disability and culminates in death 3-5 years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, there is no cure for ALS and current treatments only marginally slow down its progression.

Moreover, promising neurotrophic factors (NTFs) with neuroprotective activity show insufficient efficiency, are unable to reach the brain tissue, and have highly invasive administration routes (i.e. brain injections and intrathecal) and high production costs. As a result, all NTFs clinical trials have failed.

Associate Professor Voutilainen has discovered a novel MANF peptide variant which, in contrast to classical NTFs, has protective and restorative effects on motoneurons, penetrates the blood-brain barrier, can be subcutaneously administered, and can be inexpensively produced.

“Within REGENERA, we will assess whether MANF variant is feasible as an early-therapy option for ALS. Firstly, we will analyse the pharmacokinetic properties and efficacy of MANF variant in ALS cell and animal models and in human MNs. Subsequently, commercial feasibility will be determined by verifying IP position and strategy, performing in-depth market and competitor analyses, and finally consolidating these into a business case to establish the best path to commercialisation,” Merja Voutilainen says.

Successful commercialisation of MANF variant could reduce the profound socioeconomic burden of ALS, provide an early-therapy option to delay disease progression and thus extend and improve the patients’ lives, and provide the pharmaceutical industry with a novel therapeutic that can potentially be used for other neurodegenerative diseases.

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