Newly established start-up wins award – Mireca Medicines GmbH develops treatment for hereditary eye disease and receives Innovation Award of the biotechnology regions in Germany
Mireca Medicines GmbH is working on a method to treat previously incurable hereditary retinal diseases. A team led by Prof. François Paquet-Durand from the Institute for Ophthalmic Research at the University Hospital of Tübingen has discovered a substance that could stop sight loss. The newly established start-up with an international research network that has found its ideal location in Tübingen has just been honoured with the Innovation Award of the biotechnology regions in Germany.
Prof. François Paquet-Durand and Barbara Brunnhuber have already written the first chapter of their success story – they started a biotech company in a garage! Yet Tübingen-based Mireca Medicines GmbH doesn’t just have the ideal site for a “real” start-up – it also has the right ingredients. Prof. Paquet-Durand, CSO of Mireca Medicines GmbH, is a project manager at the Institute for Ophthalmic Research at the University Hospital of Tübingen and an internationally acclaimed specialist in hereditary retinal degeneration. As a chemist, engineer, business manager and business consultant, Barbara Brunnhuber, CEO, has the key skills to create an interface between science and business for a new start-up. Together with Peter Rall, member of Senioren der Wirtschaft Arbeitskreis e.V., as the business administrator for the start-up phase, they form a small team that has perfect international ties. “The STERN BioRegion was nevertheless the only possible location,” explains Brunnhuber. “The brains of the company, as it were, are in Tübingen. This region also offers us perfect support in every way.” The founders thus have the ideal conditions here to develop the treatment for rare retinal diseases to a ready-to-use state.
Hereditary retinal degeneration, such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), affects at least two million people worldwide. This eye disease leads to serious visual impairment and gradual blindness and cannot yet be treated. One reason for this is that it may be due to very widely varying defects or mutations in various genes. Around five years ago, an EU-funded international consortium of companies and research institutes thus set out to develop new substances to treat retinitis pigmentosa as part of the DRUGSFORD project. As the project’s scientific coordinator, Prof. Paquet-Durand found the key in tandem with his partners: “We noticed that with RP, the cGMP signalling pathway is overactive. This means that the increase in this cellular semiochemical results in the cells in the eye’s photoreceptors dying. Using drugs in this area is not easy, as the retina is shielded by the ‘blood-retinal barrier’.” The solution – instead of activating the therapeutic substance, which is a cGMP analogue that is similar to natural cGMP but impedes its metabolic pathways, it needs to be “packed” in a formulation that allows it to overcome this barrier.
“The foundation of Mireca Medicines GmbH is the logical consequence, as the consortium is certain of having found this solution,” explains Brunnhuber. And the Innovation Award of the biotechnology regions in Germany, which the start-up has just received, is proof that an independent panel of judges also considers the company’s application-oriented patents to be extremely promising.
The company is now enabling commercial use of the patents and thus ultimately the development of a treatment for patients. The next stage includes the clinical trials of phases 1 to 2b, which are expected to be carried out at the eyetrial Steinbeis Transfer Center at Tübingen Eye Hospital’s Center for Ophthalmology. Prof. Paquet-Durand is convinced that in four years’ time, when these phases are completed, concrete results will be available that will give patients reason for hope: “We’re already in contact with national and international patient organizations in order to involve sufferers in the development process early on.” After all, if Mireca delivers what experts are already promising, the new treatment will prevent patients from losing their sight. “In view of the company’s growth prospects, starting in a garage is perfect. At the end of the day, other companies that today are highly successful began in that same way,” says Brunnhuber.
Led by the Institute for Ophthalmic Research at the University Hospital of Tübingen, a consortium of companies and scientists researched new treatment options for hereditary eye diseases in the EU-funded “DRUGSFORD” joint project (www.drugsford.eu). The partners were: BIOLOG GmbH from Bremen (Germany), to-BBB technologies B.V. from Leiden (Netherlands), SP Process Development AB from Södertälje (Sweden), the University of Modena (Italy) and Lund University (Sweden).