University spin-off aims to curb MS woes

New treatments to reverse the “devastating” effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) will be investigated by a new drug discovery company based on research from a Scottish university.

Pheno Therapeutics has secured more than £5m of funding to search for new drugs to repair damage to the nervous system the disease causes and improve symptoms including problems with balance, speech, vision and movement.

University of Edinburgh professors Siddharthan Chandran and Neil Carragher are among the company founders and the firm will build on their original research.

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It aims to develop new therapies for MS by identifying novel molecules that spark the body to repair a protective cover for nerve cells damaged the disease.

MS causes the immune system to attack the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells, slowing or disrupting the electrical signals travelling along the nerves.

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By developing a so-called remyelination process, as Pheno Therapeutics hopes to, has the potential to slow or arrest the progressive disability MS patients face.

The company has secured funding over three years, subject to hitting certain milestones, from investment organisations and a medical research charity.

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Professor Chandran, director of the university’s centre for clinical brain sciences, and one of the co-founders of Pheno Therapeutics, 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.”

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The university’s commercialisation service, Edinburgh Innovations, helped to launch the company.

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

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“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.”

The firm is being 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 the independent medical research charity, LifeArc.

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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.

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“We are delighted to have reached an agreement to support Pheno Therapeutics translate their discoveries.”

MS affects more than 100,000 people in the UK and 2.5 million worldwide. It causes a wide range of symptoms, including problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.

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It is most commonly diagnosed in people in their twenties and thirties, although it can develop at any age. The condition is about two to three times more common in women than men.