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16 March, 2021 - 22:11 By Tony Quested

Alchemab wins £1.6m grant to fight Huntington’s disease

Cambridge biotech startup Alchemab has won a UK Biomedical Catalyst grant believed to be worth £1.6 million to support the development of a novel disease-modifying antibody therapy for Huntington’s disease. 

The award will support Alchemab in its pioneering collaboration with Medicines Discovery Catapult.

Alchemab has a unique target-agnostic drug discovery approach focusing on naturally protective antibodies. Using this unique approach, Alchemab has identified a panel of antibodies with disease-modifying potential from HD patients. 

These patients demonstrated slower progression than expected based on their genetic predisposition. The antibodies that were common across these ‘resilient’ individuals were notably absent in patients with normal disease progression or healthy controls.

Using the Innovate UK grant, Alchemab will functionally characterise the panel of antibodies to identify lead candidates for first-in-human studies over the next 18 months. 

By determining the molecular target of these antibodies, and whether they can protect against pathological mechanisms of HD, it may be possible to develop a new disease-modifying therapy for patients who do not have a naturally protective antibody response. If successful, a therapy of this nature could be transformative in slowing or halting disease progression.

Alex Leech, CEO at Alchemab, said: “Receiving the Innovate UK Grant for our work in Huntington’s disease is fantastic validation of Alchemab’s unique approach to drug discovery and our extraordinary team of Cambridge-based scientists who are driving this project forward.

“The Huntington disease program combines our strength in antibody discovery and development and cutting-edge science and analytical techniques with the capabilities of the Medicines Discovery Catapult. 

“We also have the benefit of having access to HD patient samples from CHDI Foundation. We are well positioned to discover and develop a potentially transformative therapy, whilst continuing the development of other programs across neurodegenerative disorders, oncology and infectious disease.”

The project will be conducted in collaboration with Medicines Discovery Catapult, drawing on its experience in the expression of iPSC-derived CNS cells – integral for studying brain diseases.

The work will combine innovative phenotypic drug discovery using cutting-edge data-rich methods with the latest translational human cell models for neurodegenerative disease to accelerate clinical development. 

The patient samples used have been provided by CHDI Foundation, a non-profit biomedical research organisation dedicated to collaboratively developing therapeutics that substantially improve the lives of those affected by HD.

Dr Jane Osbourn, Chief Scientific Officer at Alchemab, added: “Huntington’s disease is a devastating condition, leading to movement, cognitive and psychiatric disorders and ultimately progressive loss of function and death. 

“There is currently no cure and no therapies able to slow the disease, only treatments to help manage the symptoms. Gaining a deeper understanding of the disease and how naturally occurring antibodies provide susceptible but resilient individuals with protection offers an exciting new development and potential future treatment option.”

Alchemab’s approach aims to understand how resilient individuals maintain health and show resistance to a disease, even if they are genetically predisposed or susceptible. 

It assesses the vast antibody repertoire that humans produce as part of their normal immune response to understand such adaptive immunity. Using the insights, Alchemab can identify naturally protective antibodies with therapeutic potential.

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