Endometriosis is an under-served and under-estimated disease, afflicting one hundred and ninety million women worldwide, for which no sufficient treatment exists. Thus, innovation and new approaches are sorely needed. A new Bio Studio project, CurE-me (Curing Endometriosis), led by Professor Hugo Vankelecom from KU Leuven, aims to discover new therapeutic drugs against endometriosis by leveraging its strength and expertise in advanced human disease models of endometriosis.
Through unique access to biopsy samples from endometriosis patients – in collaboration with University Hospitals Leuven (UZ Leuven) – Vankelecom’s research group has developed an extensive organoid biobank. Organoids represent ‘mini-organs’ in a dish and are powerful disease avatars that closely recapitulate the endometriotic outgrowths or lesions at the root of the disease. The organoid biobank will be deployed for drug screening in the hunt for a drug to treat endometriosis more efficiently than current therapies.
“From day one in the Bio Studio program, we will screen for molecules and pathways that can lead to discovering drugs to treat endometriosis. Being able to work towards this sole focus with the BioInnovation Institute (BII) accelerates the project immensely, and that drew me towards being part of the program together with a funding option in an area where it’s difficult to attract funding”, says Hugo Vankelecom.
A match between scientific and entrepreneurial competencies
He further emphasizes that his group already has identified several pathways that can be immediately targeted. In parallel, the project will explore additional pathways and avenues. The drug discovery efforts will be complemented with extensive business development support at BII to facilitate spinning out a viable company.
“I remember during the application process, the question was asked why I couldn’t do this myself with our access to samples and the organoid biobank. When confronted with this question, one must know that I’m a scientist by heart and don’t have the expertise to bring research like this to the market. On the other hand, BII has vast experience with similar cases, and thus, there is a perfect complementary fit”, says Hugo Vankelecom.
Generated IP stay at the host university
BII will support the project with an in-kind grant of up to 1M EUR per year for a project period of up to three years, and with business development expertise, intellectual property support, investor network access, and wet lab and office infrastructure facilitating inter-project cross-fertilization and project acceleration.
As a unique value proposition of the Bio Studio program, patents generated during the project period will remain at KU Leuven, laying the foundation for a potential spin-off company under the guidance of KU Leuven Research and Development (LRD, the KU Leuven’s technology transfer office).
“There’s no doubt that the framework of the collaboration agreement is attractive to the university, and we have been pleased with the process so far with BII and are looking forward to working together to bring a highly needed treatment for women suffering from endometriosis,” states Hugo Vankelecom.
Facts about endometriosis:
Endometriosis is a disease where tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts growing outside the uterus into the peritoneum, the ovaries, and other tissues, thereby forming endometriotic lesions.
Symptoms include chronic pelvic pain, severe life-impacting period pain, pain during or after sex, blood in urine during a period, fatigue, and infertility. Endometriosis is a disease affecting 1 in 10 women of reproductive age worldwide.