Max Planck Society grants license for new drug candidates

Modag further develops drugs for multi-system atrophy and Parkinson’s disease

The protein alpha-synuclein is deposited in the brain of patients with Parkinson’s disease or multi-system atrophy at the onset of the disease. Oligomeric deposits have a particularly toxic effect on nerve cells. With a new patent for chemically modified drug candidates, Modag has now agreed upon another exclusive license with Max Planck Innovation, the technology transfer organization of the Max Planck Society. The company is now testing the active ingredient anle138b for the treatment of multi-system atrophy and Parkinson’s disease. On the basis of the licensed technology, Modag is able to develop next-generation-molecules with pharmacological characteristics, which allow for alternative dose regimens and forms of application. The substances were developed by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen together with the University in Munich.

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In a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease, animals treated with Anle138b were found to form significantly fewer synuclein aggregates (stained in brown) than did controls that received a placebo.
© Giese, LMU Munich

In 2008, teams of scientists led by Armin Giese of the University of Munich and Christian Griesinger of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen developed a substance called anle138b, which has been shown to delay nerve cell damage in mice to an unprecedented degree.

Unlike antibodies anle138b is a small molecule that can readily cross the blood-brain barrier and cell membranes and thus renders oligomers harmless at the site of action within the neuron. Antibodies cannot do this because of their size. “The special thing about anle138b is that it directly attaches to alpha-synuclein oligomers and inhibits their formation”, explains Max Planck researcher Griesinger. Andrei Leonov and Sergey Ryazanov, both chemists in his Department, synthesized the promising active ingredients.

Treated mice live longer

If genetically modified mice with various abnormalities such as human Parkinson’s disease are treated with anle138b, damage to the nerve cells is essentially halted. The animals live longer and are better able to coordinate their movements than their untreated counterparts. Furthermore, mice with multi-system atrophy treated with anle138b lose almost no nerve cells and form less toxic protein deposits in the brain. They are also more agile.

Giese and Griesinger have successfully continued their cooperation with the development of further chemically modified drug candidates. In March 2019, Modag negotiated a license agreement with Max Planck Innovation for the exclusive use of the SERY patent. This technology can be used to synthesize derivatives with a simpler formulation and higher oral availability.

Exclusive license

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In Parkinson’s disease, nerve cells die in a structure of the midbrain, the substantia nigra. Compared to a healthy mouse brain (left), the diseased mouse brain (right) shows considerable loss of nerve cells. Max Planck Scientists and their colleagues have now been able to show that such pronounced cell death is triggered only when three conditions are met.
© Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology / L. Aron

In 2013, Modag exclusively licensed its first basic patent, which includes anle138b, from the University of Munich and the Max Planck Society. Together with the Bavarian Patent Alliance for the University, they held shares of Modag since then. With private funding from the Modag CEO, Thorsten Matthias, the company successfully completed the preclinical studies.

Building on this, Modag concluded a Series A financing round of €12 million in which the Max Planck Society also participated. Astrid Giegold, Rolf Herrlinger, and Matthias Stein-Gerlach from Max-Planck Innovation have intensively supported Modag in their scientific and contractual implementation since the founding idea. “We are quite pleased that thanks to the additional funding, Modag is well positioned to be able to transfer the promising results of basic research to the development of drugs against Parkinson’s disease and multi-system atrophy for the good of patients”, says Astrid Giegold of Max Planck Innovation.

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