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Estonian BioTech marvel GeneCode secures funding to develop life-changing treatments

Estonian BioTech company GeneCode receives a large grant to develop new treatments for debilitating nerve and immune system diseases, using a unique platform to potentially slow or even reverse these conditions.

Estonian pharmaceutical development company GeneCode has received a €1,6M R&D grant from Enterprise Estonia to develop a new treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), retinitis pigmentosa (RP), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Although different in symptoms and effects, there are currently no cures for any of these conditions and treatment options are limited to managing symptoms and slowing progression. The new Kevad Bio project will use the company’s GDNF mimetic platform to create a proof of concept for potential new ALS, RP, and IBD treatments to identify new therapeutic targets.

GDNF is a protein that supports the survival and growth of neurons, but its clinical use is limited due to its inability to cross the blood-brain barrier. GDNF mimetics are designed to overcome this limitation by binding to the same receptors as GDNF and activating similar signalling pathways.

This is not the first time GeneCode has attracted such financing for novel research. The company has been recognised for its earlier development work with a €16 million grant and equity option from the European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator program. This funding, provided in 2023, supports the development of a drug and treatment aimed at slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Noble mission and future plans

“Drug discovery is a strategic area where Estonia sees significant potential, with approximately 10% of applied research funding allocated to companies innovating in this field. It is remarkable to see GeneCode assembling a strong international team. We are excited and hopeful that our support will help them develop much-needed breakthrough cures for ALS, RP, and IBD, and validate the GDNF mimetic platform,“ says Sigrid Harjo, Member of the Management Board at Enterprise Estonia.

“Existing drugs are generic and provide minimal efficacy in patients. The uniqueness of the GeneCode drug is manifested in the potential significant improvements in patients’ life duration,” adds GeneCode CEO Paavo Pilv.

According to him, the big goal is to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s disease, and that’s what their team is working on every day. Some unique solutions have already been developed — GeneCode is working on an orally applied drug that protects and restores dopamine neurons damaged by Parkinson’s disease. This is a new approach, as no other drug works this way. It’s also easier for patients, as it doesn’t require surgery and can be used in different stages of the disease. GeneCode is partnering with French startup studio ArgoBio to bring this treatment to patients.

“Our preliminary results with our novel GDNF mimetics are very encouraging. A significant challenge is developing a drug capable of stopping the progression of these diseases,” concludes Professor Mart Saarma, a member of the GeneCode supervisory board.

The upcoming proof-of-concept stage, planned for 18 months, will assess the effectiveness of proposed interventions using these novel methods. This should help create a suitable drug candidate for clinical trials. GeneCode’s end goal is also to make Parkinson’s drugs accessible to the general population. From an economic perspective, effective drugs could significantly decrease long-term healthcare spending, making managing these diseases more affordable.

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