Thursday, 13 Dec 2018

SPARK project receives millions of new funding Epilepsy Therapy

Charité doctor Prof. Dr. med. Regine Heilbronn and her research team convince at the GO-Bio-Competition of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and thus venture the leap from the laboratory into medical application. The scientists will be chosen for their novel epilepsy therapy on 18 April at the “German Biotechnology Days 2018” in Berlin.

Prof. Regine Heilbronn is one of the winners of this year’s selection round of the BMBF funding initiative “Start-up Biotechnology GO-Bio”, which supports start-up researchers with innovative ideas from the life sciences in the early project phase. The team led by Regine Heilbronn, director of the Institute of Virology at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, has developed a novel therapy for focal epilepsy together with Prof. Christoph Schwarzer of the Medical University of Innsbruck and receives more than three million euros. The therapy is a so-called “drug on demand” gene therapy based on adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors, which are injected once into the affected brain area and produce focal seizure-inhibiting neuropeptides. Before the start of an epileptic seizure, the transduced cells are stimulated by the high-frequency neuronal excitement to release the neuropeptides and epileptic seizures are completely suppressed for many months. Unlike conventional drugs, the release is strictly local and temporally limited. With this therapy concept, seizures can be prevented over the long term, side effects can be minimized and losses during learning and thinking can be prevented. Prof. Dr. Axel Radlach Pries, dean of the Charité, is pleased with the positive grant: “The project on gene vector-based therapy planned by Prof. Heilbronn has the potential to open a new chapter in the treatment of epilepsy due to the long-term, stimulation-driven drug release.”

Ready for spin-off and vector production

The research of Prof. Heilbronn and her team was accompanied by SPARK Berlin in 2017. SPARK Berlin is part of Berlin Health Innovations, the joint technology transfer unit of Charité and the Berlin Institute for Health Research / Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), and is jointly funded by the Charité Foundation and the BIH. Here, participants receive mentoring, coaching and financial support to accelerate the translation of their inventions into clinically relevant drugs, diagnostics and therapies.

“I am delighted that the efforts of the Berlin Institute for Health Research to further develop the culture of innovation in all areas, from digital to pharmaceutical, are bearing fruit. The additional GO organic funding will now enable the team headed by Prof. Heilbronn to quickly bring their innovation to the patient, “says Dr. Ing. Rolf Zettl, Administrative Director of the Berlin Institute for Health Research and the Board Member responsible for Berlin Health Innovations. At the end of the three-year GO organic promotion, the finished product will already be available for clinical trials. The innovative “drug on demand” concept also opens up new therapeutic perspectives for other chronic diseases, which have been difficult to treat so far.

Focal epilepsy difficult to treat

The potential for the new therapy is high. “Epilepsy is one of the most common chronic diseases of the central nervous system, affecting more than five million people in the EU alone,” says Regine Heilbronn. The most common form of focal epilepsy is temporal lobe epilepsy, with approximately 600,000 chronically ill patients in Europe alone. This form of focal epilepsy is medically very difficult or even untreatable. Patients often develop memory, learning and emotion control disorders that significantly affect the quality of life of sufferers as they are less and less able to participate in social life. Depending on the accessibility of the epileptic focus, the neurosurgical removal of the affected area is possible, but many patients shun the open-brain surgery, which also guarantees no lasting seizure freedom.

“We have developed truly innovative data and a unique form of therapy, but we have also benefited greatly from the support of the Charité Foundation and the BIH, as well as participation in the SPARK program, including mentoring, pitch training and in-depth coaching entrepreneurial issues, “says Prof. Heilbronn. “Since its founding, the Charité Foundation has been committed to a culture of innovation in which research and clinical application go hand in hand. The fact that the impulses in technology transfer that we have set in recent years is now having more and more of an impact is also impressively demonstrated by Professor Heilbronn’s award, “says Prof. Dr. med. E. Jürgen Zöllner, Chairman of the Charité Foundation.

GO-Bio Competition

GO-Bio (start-up offensive biotechnology) is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Founding researchers from the life sciences will receive financial support over a period of three years to transfer their innovative ideas from research into a marketable product and thus into patient use. Such research approaches are funded from the life sciences with high technological or clinical innovation potential and economic benefits. For each funding round, the BMBF provides between 20 and 30 million euros. On average, each project is supported with about two million euros.

– Contact

Manuela Zingl
Deputy spokeswoman
Charité – University Medicine Berlin
t: +49 30 450 570 400

Alexandra Hensel
Head of Communications & Marketing
Berlin Institute for Health Research / Berlin Institute of Health (BIH)

– Left

Charité – University Medicine Berlin

Berlin Institute for Health Research / Berlin Institute of Health (BIH)

Berlin Health Innovations

SPARK Berlin

Charité Foundation

idw 2018/04

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