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Iontas gets UK backing for chronic pain antibody project

Receives just under £800,000 from the UK government

IONTASCambridge-based biotech Iontas has been awarded a sizeable grant from the UK government to help it develop antibody-based therapies for chronic pain.

The total grant is just under £800,000 ($1.05m), with 70% of the total (£556,000) coming from the Biomedical Catalyst Primer scheme, a partnership between Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council designed to support smaller companies and academic groups overcome the difficulties of obtaining private sector funding.

Iontas will use the money to expand its research focus to include ion channels thought to be involved in chronic pain, which it says affects 25-35% of the world’s population and “carries a significant socio-economic burden and has an estimated global market value of $83bn by 2024”.

Specifically, the cash injection will be used to develop antibodies targeting the Nav1.7 sodium ion channel, which is expressed at high levels in nerve cells associated with sending pain signals to the central nervous system and are blocked by some local anaesthetics such as lidocaine.

Some people who have congenital insensitivity to pain are known to have mutations that lead to a loss of Nav1.7 function, and that has stimulated interest in developing drugs that selectively target the channel without affecting other channels that can cause side effects.

Iontas is developing a specific type of antibody - which it calls a KnotBody - that are particularly suited to targeting ion channels and other cellular components like G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) and proteases that are hard to reach with conventional monoclonal antibody structures.

Its approach is to create a sort of hybrid between cysteine-knot miniproteins or ‘knottins’ - small peptides found in venom toxins which can bind to an extraordinarily diverse range of molecular targets but tend to be short-lived in the body - and a conventional monoclonal antibody which has a longer half-life.

In pain, the intention is to generate therapeutic candidates that overcome issues with current opioid-based drugs, such as inconsistent efficacy and side-effects like tolerance, addiction and overdose.

The Nav1.7 channel first emerged as a drug target for new analgesics in the early 2000s, but early attempts to develop drugs were scuppered by side effects caused by a lack of selectivity, hitting other channels that played roles outside of pain sensing.

Pharma companies are still developing drugs that aim to overcome this selectivity challenge, including Pfizer which has a candidate called PF-05089771 in phase II trials for pain associated with diabetic neuropathy. Two other experimental drugs - Biogen’s BIIB074 and Xenon Pharma/Teva’s funapide - are also in phase II for chronic pain indications.

Article by
Phil Taylor

31st May 2018

From: Research

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