Grant Supports Screening Platform for Potential Vaccine

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by Marta Figueiredo, PhD |

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Amarna Therapeutics and Redoxis have received an €800,000 (about $900,000) grant from Eureka Eurostars to advance their joint project, ALPHAVAC, which aims to discover immune-related therapeutic targets of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Promising targets, initially focused on ALS, then will be used to develop innovative virus-based vaccines with Amarna’s proprietary SVec viral platform.

Eureka is the world’s biggest public network for international cooperation in research, development, and innovation, involving 49 countries across Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia.

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Co-funded by the national budgets of 37 Eureka countries and the European Union, Eurostars is a European funding program that supports innovative small and medium companies and their partners, including large companies, universities, and several types of organizations.

“We are very pleased that our approach to neurodegenerative diseases, illustrated here by ALS, has been recognized and awarded a Eurostars grant, and we now look forward to launch the project with Redoxis,” Steen Klysner, PhD, Amarna’s CEO, said in a press release.

Increasing evidence suggests that abnormal immune reactions to the body’s own molecules (self-antigens) contribute to the progression of neurodegenerative diseases, such as ALS, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

As such, scientists have hypothesized that inducing immune tolerance to these disease-specific self-antigens may suppress abnormal immune responses against them, ultimately slowing or halting disease progression.

Instead of stimulating a person’s immune system to recognize, memorize, and readily fight specific microbes or molecules, Amarna’s vaccines are designed to promote immune tolerance to a particular molecule, such as a self-antigen.

The ALPHAVAC project, with a duration of three years, seeks to develop AlphaSelect, a self-antigen screening and validation platform based on inducible disease animal models and tolerogenic approaches using modified and harmless viruses.

These viruses will carry and deliver the genetic information needed to produce a specific self-antigen to certain cells, which then will “show” the self-antigen to immune cells.

Notably, several strategies have been used to prevent this self-antigen presentation from boosting immune reactions against it, and instead promote tolerance of it. Among them are modifications in the self-antigen molecule to make it less immunogenic.

Immunogenicity refers to the ability of a microbe or a molecule to promote immune reactions against it.

The AlphaSelect platform will be used initially by Redoxis to develop an inducible animal model of ALS, after which Amarna will use the model to assess the effects of virus-based tolerogenic vaccines directed at promising ALS-specific self-antigens.

Results — should they be positive — will be used for developing an effective tolerogenic vaccine for ALS using Amarna’s proprietary SVec viral platform.

This platform allows the cost-efficient production of a modified and harmless version of the Simian virus 40 that deliver the self-antigen to cells. This type of virus strictly grows in its natural host, macaque monkeys, and is thought to be more stable and less immunogenic than other viruses currently used in experimental and approved therapies for several conditions.

The ALPHAVAC project is expected to complement Amarna’s pipeline, which already includes two experimental SVec-based tolerogenic vaccines: AMA002 for type 1 diabetes and AMA003 for multiple sclerosis.