The federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia supports the Lead Discovery Center GmbH (LDC) and the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE) financially in pursuing a novel therapeutic approach against age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
As part of the LifeSciences.NRW lead market competition, the two partners will receive funding of EUR 905,000 from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Together with the contribution made by the LDC, a total of 1.3 million euros will be available over the next three years to develop new active ingredients for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of blindness. In Germany alone, around 6.9 million people are affected, 480,000 of them in an advanced stage.
The new approach is based on research results from Michael Ehrmann and his team at the UDE. The researchers found that patients affected by AMD often carry higher levels of a specific enzyme, the HTRA1 protease. This leads to increased breakdown of proteins and subsequent damage to the macula, which is crucial for vision. A targeted inhibition of HTRA1 could thus stop the progression of the disease. In a first collaborative project, also funded by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the LDC and the UDE have already been able to identify a number of chemical substances that specifically block HTRA1. In the follow-up project that started at the beginning of December, the partners want to optimize and validate these substances.
At the end of November, the LDC celebrated its tenth anniversary with a festive event. More than 60 projects have been started since it was founded. One of these has led to a drug candidate that is already being tested in the clinic, and two others are about to take this step. The scientific basis for all those projects is supported by a wide range of academic institutions, including institutes of the Max Planck Society, the Helmholtz Association and universities.
“In the beginning, science showed us interested curiosity and the pharmaceutical industry cautious skepticism,” recalled Peter Nussbaumer, one of the two managing directors of the LDC, at the anniversary event. The LDC now works with numerous academic institutions and has 13 license agreements and several development collaborations with industry, including AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Daiichi Sankyo, Grünenthal, Johnson & Johnson, Merck KGaA and Qurient.
The LDC works on small molecules and also on therapeutic antibodies. For the latter, a branch was recently opened in Munich. In total, the LDC has created more than 70 jobs, most of them at the main location in Dortmund.