Medical advances in the past few decades have been brought about to a very significant extent through the development of new active ingredients. Researchers have long since ceased relying on chance discoveries, instead focusing on targeting attack points in the body and testing an increasing range of new substances for their tolerability and effectiveness. But the path from fundamental research to the use of a new drug is nevertheless a very long and laborious one. Before an active ingredient can be considered as a candidate for licensing as a drug, extensive and expensive safety trials are required, and most do not pass. This means that companies need to invest a great deal of money before even knowing whether they will ever actually be able to earn any money from the product. Building and marketing a prototype of a new machine goes much faster. “A lot of challenges have to be overcome on the way to the finished medication; it is the most expensive kind of product development and involves the greatest risk,” explains Dr. Karen Uhlmann, one of the co-founders of OMEICOS. The company is a spin-off from the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin and is focusing its product development on a new kind of medication against atrial fibrillation, the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia, which affects some two million people in Germany alone. Without treatment, it can have serious consequences, including strokes.
Synthetic analogues for improved effectiveness
Many years of fundamental research went into the idea for the product. In collaboration with Dr. Robert Fischer and Professor Dr. Dominik Müller at the MDC, Dr. Wolf-Hagen Schunck’s working group studied the active mechanisms of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are contained, for instance, in marine fish oil. They were able to show that it is not the fatty acids themselves that protect the heart, but specific metabolites, which the body obtains from these fatty acids as intermediate products of the metabolism. However, the research team also observed that these metabolites are quickly metabolised further by the body and can only develop their potentially beneficial qualities for a very short time. The research team had the idea very early on of manufacturing optimised, artificially produced copies, or synthetic analogues, which have the same effect, or even work better, and are at the same time more stable in the body and so can take effect for a longer period. It is one of these active ingredients that is now being tested on patients.
Targeted support for research teams wanting to create start-ups
Such successes need not only an excellent and sound scientific basis but also, and above all, a great deal of patience and targeted support from public and private funding. The kind of research funding usual for fundamental research is not sufficient to cover the cost-intensive development of active ingredients. This is why the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is supporting research teams in the Life Sciences wanting to form start-ups with specific funding programmes that give support to promising projects in their crucial phases and in many cases make acquiring private capital at all possible. The sums needed are usually so large that several risk capital donors, known as venture capitalists (VC) are needed to invest the money required. In the case of OMEICOS public and private donors have to date invested around 37 million euros, with not a single euro being earned as revenue yet. Before the product can be licensed, the young enterprise will be needing many times more that sum.
You can find the chronology of the formation of the OMEICOS spin-off in the Newsletter Special ‘Success Factors in Transfer-Oriented Research’ which is available (in German) - here.
Source: Newsletter „Aktuelle Ergebnisse der Gesundheitsforschung" - Spezial: Erfolgsfaktoren der transferorientierten Forschung