The Heidelberg-based biotech company ELARA Pharmaceuticals is focused on the development of treatments of tumours through the inhibition of the hypoxia signalling pathway (HIF) and through the induction of apoptosis. The company’s lead candidate targets multiple myeloma, a cancer that arises in the plasma cells of the immune system.
This company is in the described form no longer active in the market.
ELARA Pharmaceuticals GmbH was founded in 2006 as a spin-off of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. The company is focused on the pre-clinical development of innovative drugs for the treatment of malignant diseases through the inhibition of the hypoxia inducible factor (HIF) controlled signalling pathway and through the induction of apoptosis.
HIF is a transcription factor that is expressed in cells and tissue in the absence of oxygen (hypoxia) and activates genes that are required by the body to adapt to hypoxic conditions, for example the genes encoding VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor), erythropoietin and the glucose transporter. HIF promotes the formation of new blood vessels, stimulates growth and protects the cells against apoptosis (programmed cell death). HIF is crucial for the growth of tumours, the supply of tumours with blood, metastasis and the development of resistances to therapies. Several members of the HIF protein family are known, of which the most important is HIF-1.
In the development of its drug candidate EL 101 that targets multiple myeloma, ELARA works closely together with the German-Speaking Myeloma Multicenter Group (GMMG, director: Professor Dr. Hartmut Goldtschmidt) at the University Hospital of Heidelberg (Medical Hospital V) and the National Centre for Tumour Diseases (NCT). The GMMG is one of two study groups that carry out Germany-wide multiple myeloma studies in cooperation with numerous treatment centres.
Multiple myeloma is one of several subgroups of malignant lymphomas, a cancer of the lymphatic system. It belongs to the group of slow-growth non-Hodgkin lymphomas. The disease is characterised by the malignant alteration of plasma cells. Healthy plasma cells mature from B-lymphocytes and produce antibodies against viruses and bacteria. Myeloma cells also produce large quantities of antibodies or antibody fragments, which are however non-functional and thus unsuitable to defend the body against infections (so-called paraproteins). The uncontrolled proliferation of myeloma cells in the bone marrow impairs or prevents the maturation of healthy blood cells, which leads to susceptibility to infections, anaemia, and loss of strength. In addition, the condition leads to painful bone fractures because the myeloma cells produce substances that attack the bone and interfere with the calcium concentration. The deposition of paraproteins in the kidneys often leads to renal insufficiency.
The exact causes that lead to the development of multiple myelomas are still unknown. In Germany, approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with multiple myeloma every year, which means that although it is relatively rare in comparison with lung, breast or colon cancer, multiple myeloma is nevertheless the second most frequent disease affecting the blood and lymph system.
To date, the standard treatment of multiple myeloma patients involves traditional induction chemotherapy which is tailored to the patients' general condition and the complications caused by the tumour. Induction chemotherapy is then followed by more intensive chemotherapy for the production of haematopoietic stem cells and high-dose chemotherapy for the transplantation of autologous stem cells. It is envisaged that the development of drugs such as ELARA's EL 101 that specifically target multiple myelomas enables the treatment of cancers without too many side effects and helps to considerably expand the available therapy spectrum.