A new Cambridge, England-based biotech company called Morphogen-IX received £1.5 million pounds — or about $2.14 million in U.S. dollars — in seed funding to develop a potential new treatment for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).
The therapy results from the 15 years of research at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital by Prof. Nick Morrell and his team.
PAH is a progressive disease identified by narrowed blood vessels that transport blood from the heart to the lungs. The condition forces the heart to work harder in order to pump blood through the arteries, which progressively weakens the heart muscles and eventually leads to heart failure.
The funding is led by Index Ventures, along with Cambridge Innovation Capital and Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds.
In the United Kingdom, it is estimated that around 6,500 people suffer from PAH, most of whom are women in their 30s. There is no known medical cure for PAH, but current therapies may help relieve symptoms and slow disease progression.
Contrary to most available therapies, the potential new treatment to be developed and licensed by Morphogen-IX directly targets the major pathway involved in the disease according to human genetic studies, and hence could be more efficient.
According the university’s website, Morrell’s team is focused on the molecular mechanisms underlying PAH pathogenesis, especially the role of mutations in the bone morphogenetic protein type II receptor (BMPR-II), which may be linked to the disease. The team is developing strategies to rescue BMPR-II deficiency.
“We are delighted that our BHF [British Heart Foundation]-funded research has led to the discovery of a new potential treatment for this rare but important disease. Our new company, Morphogen-IX, is the most efficient vehicle to take this exciting approach forward rapidly into clinical development,” said Morrell, leader of the BHF Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Cambridge and research director of the National Pulmonary Hypertension Service at Papworth Hospital, in a news release.
Dr. Andrew Walsh, technology manager at Cambridge Enterprise, said, “I am very happy with the establishment of Morphogen-IX. PAH is a devastating disease and this company will be solely dedicated to developing a therapy that will, for the first time, tackle the disease itself rather than attempt to manage the symptoms.”
“The creation of Morphogen-IX represents another exciting opportunity to translate world-leading science conducted in Cambridge into a novel treatment that has the potential to bring benefit for this serious condition,” said Dr. Robert Tansley, investment director at Cambridge Innovation Capital. “We are pleased to be making our first co-investment with Index Ventures and to be working again with Cambridge Enterprise to help fund a young organization with great potential.”
Because PAH patients have, on average, a young age of diagnosis, finding new therapies is crucial in order to improve their quality of life as well as life expectancy. Both could be provided by the development of the new treatment.
“There is a clear and urgent need for an effective treatment for PAH that means people don’t need a transplant. If clinical trials prove positive, this research will lead to substantial benefits for patients with this horrible disease,” said Prof. Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of BHF.
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