Synklino is developing an innovative drug to combat a virus that afflicts patients who receive organ and stem cell transplants. A recent investment from the BioInnovation Institute is moving the start-up from the discovery phase into development.
“We are developing a biopharmaceutical drug to treat a herpes virus infection called cytomegalovirus (or CMV). Most people are carriers and, just like other herpes viruses, once you get it, you can’t get rid of it” Thomas Kledal, CEO of Synklino, says.
Well-known strains of herpes are apparent through common symptoms like cold sores. By contrast, most people with CMV will never know that they have it. That is, unless their immune system is suppressed after receiving a stem cell or an organ transplant. Kledal views this as a huge problem, considering it manifests in people who’ve been sick for a prolonged period, with either leukaemia or organ failure:
“People wait for a long time to receive an organ that increases their chances of survival. But if they get CMV infection during the transplantation process, their mortality rate increases significantly. For some high-risk groups it even doubles and the healing process following transplantation is complicated and slowed. In other words, CMV is a serious condition that increases costs and suffering connected to transplants.”
“The timing is right”
Combining their expertise, Synklino’s three founders represent a lifetime – or three – of research and academic achievements within basal molecular pharmacology and these special receptors. Describing their relationship, Kledal remarks:
“We’ve done research together as a group for years within this field. During that time various ideas have arisen based on what we’ve discovered. For instance, it was possible for us to target this viral protein due to its very particular behavior.”
The three started a company in 2008 and worked on what has now become part of Synklino’s intellectual property. However, the regulatory requirements for phase III drug testing stifled their early attempts.
Fortunately, the medical world – and its requirements – have changed since then. Adding to this, Kledal points out: ”We now know that our drug has much more capability than we knew back then. It can kill both latent virus-infected cells as well as active ones.”
The drug can also be used to cure organs housed in organ care systems outside the body. They are currently testing the treatment on lungs that are deemed unfit for transplant in Toronto, Canada.
Discovering and developing within a billion-dollar market
This August, Novo Nordisk Foundation’s innovation initiative, BioInnovation Institute (BII) injected 10 million Danish kroner into Synklino. Their acceptance into the notoriously-selective incubator came at the right moment, as they were transitioning from a discovery to a development company. Kledal is quick to point out that this transition ”requires huge knowledge and financial resources.”
Drug development is a long and winding road. Most likely, transplant patients will not benefit from Synklino’s innovations until the mid-to-late 2020s. Still, the company is highly motivated to advance their development based on market research in the US and Europe, as the need is clear:
“The market that is the most attractive from a commercial angle would be to position our drug as a preventative treatment for transplant patients. That segment alone in the US and Europe presents an annual revenue opportunity of more than 1 billion USD. But beyond that, the drug can benefit anyone who is immunosuppressed,” Kledal concludes.