Apollo Therapeutics has approved £8.5 million ($10.6 million) to fund four projects, including a small and large molecule discovery program to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH).
Professors Martin Wilkins and Lan Zhao of Imperial College London‘s Department of Medicine will head the PAH program. Both have previously identified a gene called Slc39a12, which is active in the blood vessels of patients with PAH. This gene produces a the ZIP12 protein, which regulates zinc levels in cells. The gene isn’t active in normal lungs, but is switched on in the lungs of people with PAH. Researchers believe disabling this gene helps protect against PAH in low oxygen conditions.
The study, “The zinc transporter ZIP12 regulates the pulmonary vascular response to chronic hypoxia,” appeared in 2015 in the journal Nature.
The team will now collaborate to discover selective inhibitors of the zinc transporter ZIP12 as a novel approach to the treatment of PAH.
Established in January 2016, Apollo Therapeutics is a collaborative venture formed by three global pharmaceutical companies — AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson Innovation — and the technology transfer offices of three top universities: Imperial College London, University of Cambridge and University College London. The venture aims to significantly improve the speed and potential of university research being translated into novel medicines for a broad range of diseases.
Besides the PAH drug discovery program, Apollo has also approved funding for and launched three other projects, including a small molecule discovery program to treat alpha1 antitrypsin deficiency (a genetic disorder affecting the lungs and liver); a cell therapy to treat retinal degeneration (a major cause of vision loss and blindness), and a program to enhance the efficacy and persistence of autologous and in vivo T-cell therapies.
The consortium is also finalizing two further projects, and has multiple others in evaluation across all three academic institutions.
“The diversity of these four initial projects illustrates the breadth and quality of opportunity we are seeing from our partner universities, both in disease area and therapeutic modality. The participation and support of all six partners is excellent, in the spirit of this collaborative venture and the unique Apollo model,” Apollo CEO Richard Butt said in a press release.
Added Apollo Chairman Ian Tomlinson: “The level of engagement with both the academic community and industry players is enabling the Drug Discovery Team to deliver Apollo’s vision of funding novel therapeutics, sourced from the best of British academic research, accelerating them towards the clinic.”