Targeted substance design using an advanced platform technology that takes into account the natural dynamics of pharmaceutical substances and targets early on during the discovery process – this is what the Ulm-based biopharmaceutical company Acrovis biostructures GmbH offers. Acrovis has all the instruments needed to be able to optimally determine the structure of pharmaceutical substances.
Many decisions have to be taken right at the outset, for example the structure of the drug candidate is always determined prior to starting the actual development process. To take the decision at any other stage in the process could easily result in the loss of many million euros. The founder of Acrovis, Thomas Haehner, explained the company’s philosophy: “Therefore we concentrate entirely on the beginning of the pharmaceutical value creation chain.”The company, which was founded in 2008, does not do things by half. Its business is focused on a solid mix of services and research, revolving around the design of pharmaceutical substances for pharmaceutical companies, and including professional services as well as the development of proprietary substances.
After the initial start-up phase of acquiring orders from pharmaceutical and biotech companies, the company is now ready to tackle the next stage of development. This involves the establishment of a biophysical laboratory in the Ulm area and the expansion of the company's business.
Over the next two years, the company hopes to establish a solid presence on the European market, before turning its attention to the North American market, said Managing Director and founder Dr. Thomas Haehner.
The company's business model is based on the Acrodyn platform technology, which effectively surpasses the limited approach of rational drug design by endeavouring to move a step closer to ideal drug development.
"Drug targets such as proteins are not static systems. They behave dynamically, adopt different conformations and alter their structure by binding to chemical substances," explained Haehner. Acrovis' objective is to gain a better understanding of these dynamic interactions, taking into account the conformations of different protein targets in order to increase the hit rate of potential drug candidates.
The company uses a new bioinformatic tool that works on the fragment-based method. The tool is currently being developed using both virtual as well as real molecular fragments. "With our highly competitive technology and our excellent skills in the field of dynamic protein-ligand interactions, we are very much on the right road to efficient drug development," said Haehner highlighting the skills of the young company.
Acrovis' new approach focuses on systems biological, pharmacological, toxicological and pharmacokinetic issues with the goal of not only maximising the drug's affinity with potential targets, but also clarifying the effect of a given substance in the organism at an early stage of the drug discovery process. Computer technology is used to find out whether early-stage drug candidates interact with toxicological targets and to explore their pharmacokinetic properties.
These in-silico findings are combined in vitro very early on in the drug discovery process and are later tested in animal experiments. The objective is to develop drugs and enable them to reach their specific targets without generating any toxic side effects. “The majority of these small molecules do not reach their target correctly due to their unsuitable pharmakinetic properties. Many mistakes occur at this stage of the process,” said Haehner describing the problem Acrovis has set out to solve. “We are preparing the foundations for further basic developments,” said Haehner outlining Acrovis’ mission, which is to come up with drug development innovations to help large and small companies improve their drug discovery processes and consequently the success rate of their entire drug development process. Haehner sees his company as the seed crystal for a broad range of developments.
Acrovis has already passed the crucial test; Acrovis' technology has proven its value and convinced companies to use it. The company has just tested a drug candidate in preclinical investigations. The drug candidate, which utilises what is known as a stress-response mechanism, is now undergoing further development. Further candidates are in the pipeline. Haehner sees huge potential for first-in-class substances and for the expansion and further development of structure-based rational drug development." Our strengths are not only based on the fact that our research focuses on specific indications, but also on our focus on discovery technology.
The Ulm-based company has a solid financial basis. Development costs are covered by a bank and private investors, said the Managing Director whose team combines scientific know-how with economic skills.
The company's business concept is not solely built around the ideas of the two founders and medical practitioners Thomas Haehner and Torsten Diesinger (who also has a degree in biology). The fields of computer-assisted drug development and bioinformatics (Dr. Radovan Dvorsky) and structural biology (Dr. Alfred Lautwein) are of equal importance. Dr. Roman Denk, one of the co-founders, who is in charge of business development, has long-standing experience in pharmaceutical company management . The company works with numerous academic partners, notably with the director of the Ulm-based Institute of Physiological Chemistry, Prof. Thomas Wirth. This work with academic partners is aimed at advancing Acrovis' research activities in liver and kidney indications.
Acrovis biostructures GmbH is embracing a solid, long-term business model that is typical of many small- and medium-sized companies in Baden-Württemberg. Haehner is convinced that the company has great staying power thanks to its lead in drug discovery technologies, the result of the investment of a great deal of capital and research, both of which will be further expanded in the future.
Acrovis is set to establish a biophysical laboratory in the near future which will enable the company to build up its customer base. Further plans include the establishment of a laboratory on the East Coast of the United States. In the meantime, the company hopes to grow slowly but steadily to 20 employees and advance its service business along with early proprietary developments in order to carry out clinical tests in cooperation with larger business partners. Haehner is full of praises for the future potential offered in and around Ulm, implicitly also praising his own company for its dynamic development.