A Dublin start-up chasing a breakthrough treatment for a broad range of inflammatory diseases has raised €15 million to move into clinical trials.
The company, Inflazome, which was established in Dublin earlier this year has its roots in a chance meeting at a medical conference between Dublin immunologist Prof Luke O'Neill and Prof Matt Cooper, a chemist attached to the University of Queensland who has worked extensively in the areas of inflammation and superbugs.
The two academics have spent the past four years examining the role of inflammasomes, part of the human immune system, in disease and how to control them. Inflammasomes are seen as critical players in the body’s inflammatory response.
However, if overactive, they can lead to major health problems and have been implicated in everything from arthritis to type-two diabetes, and from Parkinson’s, and even Alzheimer’s disease, to atherosclerosis – narrowing of the arteries that can lead to heart attack and stroke – though their role in many conditions is the subject of ongoing research worldwide.
Prof Cooper says several established drug companies and a number of start-ups have been looking at approaches to inflammasomes for the past 12 years or so.
“Everyone knows the target and is looking at how to address it,” he said. “These conditions are often inadequately treated by current therapies. We want to help people with debilitating diseases facing limited or no treatment options.”
Inflazome is looking to develop drugs that can be taken orally and now has what it sees as a promising candidate ready to enter human clinical trials.
The fundraising was led by venture capital firms Novartis Venture Funds and Dublin-based Fountain Healthcare Partners.
Manus Rogan, a co-founder and managing director at Fountain, who is joining the board of Inflazome following the funding, said: "This deal is particularly exciting as we are a first mover with a small-molecule inhibitor, a hot drug target within inflammation.
“Inflammasomes drive a wide variety of acquired and inherited diseases and hence it is a very attractive target to block,” he said.
He said the advantage of the Dublin-company’s “small molecule” approach was that it was designed to develop a pill that could be safer, cheaper and more broadly applicable than current alternative biologic treatments available from Novartis and Regeneron.
Prof O’Neill, who is chief scientific officer at Inflazome, said: “Animal models and clinical data suggest there is tremendous opportunity to stop the cycle of chronic inflammation in a range of diseases. We believe that targeting the inflammasome has tremendous potential for a wide range of inflammatory diseases where current treatments are ineffective.”
“Considering the breadth and depth of possible applications, the commercial potential for a successful small-molecule inhibitor of this key target is clearly in the billions of dollars range,” said Dr Rogan.