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Elara Pharmaceuticals

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This company is in the described form no longer active in the market.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.

Dual strategy to halt cancer growth

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.

ELARA’s drug candidates exert a dual mechanism of action against tumour growth: apoptosis induction and HIF inhibition © www.elarapharma.com
ELARA expects the cancer drugs that target HIF to have greater efficacy than the currently used therapeutics, since HIF exerts its effect upstream of validated oncological targets. It is interesting to note that ELARA’s substances have a dual mechanism of action: They inhibit the hypoxia signalling pathway by inducing caspase 3, a key enzyme in the signalling chain that leads to programmed cell death. This has the advantage that drugs attack the whole tumour, not only under hypoxic conditions, but also when the tumour is supplied with sufficient amounts of oxygen (so-called normoxic conditions). “Our lead drug candidate, EL 101, is in pre-clinical development for the indication multiple myeloma. The substance has an outstanding pharmacokinetic profile and exhibits a strong affinity to malignant cells of this breast cancer, for which efficient treatment strategies are urgently required because no drugs are currently available for its treatment,” said Dr. Joe Lewis, cofounder and CEO of ELARA Pharmaceuticals. In November 2009, ELARA announced the closing of a financing round that provides support for the financing of pre-clinical trials and for submitting an application for carrying out clinical testing in the USA (IND) and Europe (IMPD).

Superior scientific know-how receives excellent funding

ELARA's drug discovery pipeline © www.elarapharma.com
“ELARA managed in a very short time to develop proprietary inhibitors of the hypoxia signalling pathway that have pharmacological profiles that are superior to those of other substances and that are suitable for a broad range of applications,” said Dr. Christof Antz, former Managing Partner of EMBL Ventures, the lead investor of ELARA Pharmaceuticals, who was appointed Chief Business Officer of ELARA in 2009. ELARA’s identification of drug candidates benefited from the expertise and infrastructure of the Chemical Biology Core Facility (see BioPro article entitled “Rational planning instead of serendipity”) that is jointly run by EMBL, DKFZ and the University of Heidelberg and is led by Joe Lewis. When ELARA was founded by Lewis and other EMBL scientists, including Professor Frank Gannon, the long-term director of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO), in 2006, important intellectual property rights for substances with a promising chance of being turned into drugs for the treatment of tumours were exclusively licensed to ELARA. Since then, ELARA has dynamically developed its proprietary IP portfolio further through own innovations. The start-up company, which was a winner of the GoBio BMBF programme, also received funds through the BioRN Top Cluster programme, which, together with the newly acquired funds from the investors EMBL Ventures, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau (KfW) and Wagnisfinanzierungsgesellschaft für Technologieförderung in Rhineland-Palatinate (WFT) amount to a total volume of 4.6 million euros that will be used for the further development of ELARA’s drug pipeline.

Clinical cooperation on the treatment of multiple myeloma

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.

Myltiple myelomas are characterised by malignant plasma cells. © David Weissmann, UMDNJ, USA

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.

Further information:

ELARA Pharmaceuticals GmbH
Boxbergring 107
69126 Heidelberg
E-mail: info(at)elarapharma.com
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/elara-pharmaceuticals