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25 June, 2019 - 16:12 By Tony Quested

Cambridge startup turns tables on killer molecule with new drugs roadmap

Arjun Jain

A Cambridge scientific entrepreneur has patented a way to turn a malevolent molecule that is currently preventing cures to diabetes and other diseases into new drugs that can dramatically change “hundreds of millions of lives.”

Dr Arjun Jain has founded ET-traps Limited to exploit the technology and believes his work has spawned a world-first opportunity for broad-based drug discovery. He has filed a patent to protect the innovation and is seeking investment.

ET-traps claims to be the world's first business venture to create a soluble binder to endothelin-1 which binds a GPCR (a G protein-coupled receptor). Dr Jain sequestered endothelin-1, a molecule that shows significantly elevated levels in people suffering from serious ailments like neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases as well as diabetes.

Endothelin-1 is shown to be elevated in diabetes and sequestering this molecule should help alleviate the condition. Endothelin–1 was discovered in 1988. 

Scientists and clinicians were quick to identify it as a very important molecule, given it was present in all humans and its levels are significantly elevated in different diseases. This includes different cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular diseases as well as diabetes. The molecule is largely responsible for many pathological processes in these diseases.

ET-1 is a vasoconstrictor, proinflammatory and proliferative endothelial cell-derived peptide that is of significant importance in the regulation of vascular function. 

Various studies have talked about the importance of lowering ET-1 levels. Researchers have developed therapeutics to completely block the action of this molecule. Currently, there are endothelin antagonists that are already in clinical use. However, ET-1 is critical for normal physiological functions and using an endothelin antagonist that completely blocks the activity of the molecule is associated with many side effects. 

Dr Jain started from the premise that it might be more useful to merely sequester the pathologically elevated levels of the same. For this, Dr Jain has developed a novel tool to bind and sequester these pathologically elevated ET-1 levels in different disease models.

He has successfully published the pre-clinical studies in international journals and it has widely been commended by leading world experts in the field. He is now set to take this venture to the next level of clinical trials for which he is seeking further investment. If successful, ET-traps would be a revolutionary drug, which would be able to treat many unmet needs in medical science.

Dr Jain said: “We have devised a novel approach to target this molecule, which has significantly elevated levels in a host of different diseases. It seems amazing that by controlling the levels of the molecule in question, so many hundreds of millions of lives can be dramatically changed.

“The ET-traps story took flight back in 2005 when I was a PhD at the University of Cambridge. The idea kept brewing in my mind while I was a Marie Curie Post doctoral research fellow in Bern, Switzerland. 

“I took an innovative approach by sequestering Endothelin. At that time, many experts in the field felt the idea was impossible.

“However, a decade later, the same people have applauded the fantastic work done and now things have started taking a very definite shape. ET-traps Limited has completed the proof of concept studies in the cellular as well as animal models in the diabetes disease space. 

“Furthermore, the technology was awarded the first prize as the most promising idea for developing a novel therapeutic at the Biotech startup competition at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, in association with AstraZeneca.

“A patent has been filed. This is successfully recognised as a major breakthrough for medicine as GPCR is a very important drug target.

“Diabetes is one of the most common diseases affecting millions of people around the globe and is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become very high. 

“Not only does it have an effect on the blood sugar levels, but also, damages the vital organs of the human body, which makes this disease a major public health burden. The scientific community has been conducting a lot of research in finding therapeutic tools to treat this disease.”

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