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Novel treatments that may reverse the effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) will be investigated by a new drug-discovery company spun out from the University of Edinburgh.

Backed by Series A funding of £5 million over its first three years, Pheno Therapeutics will search for new drugs that aim to repair damage to the nervous system and significantly improve patients’ debilitating symptoms.

Building on original research by Professors Siddharthan Chandran and Neil Carragher of the University of Edinburgh, the company aims to develop new therapies for MS by identifying novel molecules that cause the body to repair or replace the damaged myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells.

This so-called remyelination process has the potential to slow or arrest the progressive disability caused by MS.

Pheno Therapeutics is supported by Advent Life Sciences, the London-based venture capital firm; the Scottish Investment Bank, with backing from the Scottish Government through the Scottish Growth Scheme; and independent medical research charity LifeArc. Together they have committed to invest £5 million over three years, subject to the company meeting certain milestone conditions.

Siddharthan Chandran

Pheno Therapeutics co-founder Professor Siddharthan Chandran said: “There are no interventions for people with later-stage multiple sclerosis, which is a devastating and debilitating condition. The opportunity for this company is to bring new and repurposed therapeutics to clinical trials and, by doing so, meet an urgent and currently unmet need.”

Key to the company’s potential impact in MS treatments is the University’s advanced cell based technology platform, which enables the screening of large compound libraries on novel human cellular platforms, in addition to the founders’ and investors’ combination of clinical and drug discovery expertise.

Pheno Therapeutics intends to optimize the leads emerging from its cutting edge phenotypic screens via medicinal chemistry to deliver new candidate compounds that will progress through pre-clinical tests then proof-of-concept clinical trials.

MS affects more than 100,000 people in the UK and 2.5 million worldwide. Targeting the nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord, the disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the protective layer surrounding nerve cells called the myelin sheath, slowing or disrupting the electrical signals traveling along the nerves.

It causes a wide range of symptoms including problems with movement, vision, sensation, and balance.

Current treatments mainly focus on the immune system aspects of the disease and reduce the severity and frequency of relapses. There is a significant medical need for novel neuroprotective agents that halt disease progression and prevent long-term disability.

Pheno Therapeutics is a spinout company from the University of Edinburgh founded by Professors Chandran and Carragher, Advent Life Sciences and Dr Jon Moore, Operating Partner at Advent Life Sciences.

The formation of Pheno Therapeutics has been supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialization service, which helped bring together the scientific and clinical expertise in partnership with Advent Life Sciences to launch the company.

Dr George Baxter, CEO of Edinburgh Innovations, said: “I’m delighted to see this company launch with the support of such credible investors.

“Everyone involved is focused on driving the science forward, and we look forward to supporting the team as momentum continues to build, ultimately offering the promise of new treatments.”

Dr David Holbrook, head of LifeArc’s Seed Fund, said: “At the Seed Fund, we look to use our translational expertise to invest in enterprises with a sound scientific concept and the potential to lead to new interventions that address patient needs.

“In the founders of Pheno Therapeutics and their research to induce myelin repair, we saw an appealing opportunity, particularly given the existing clinical needs in progressive MS. We are delighted to have reached an agreement to support Pheno Therapeutics translate their discoveries.”

 

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