In 2009, a seminal publication in Science by Brangwynne and Hyman put the potential of biomolecular condensates on the agenda. Merely fourteen years later, in 2023, the two authors received the “Life Science Breakthrough Award” for discovering that membrane-less condensates play a role in numerous cellular processes, including cell signaling, cell division, and regulation of DNA. This breakthrough leads to new drug discovery opportunities to enable better efficiency and selectivity of future drugs.
To leverage the significant leaps made within the research of biomolecular condensates, BII is excited to announce a new project in its Bio Studio program named ‘Neurophase’ led by Professor Kristian Strømgaard from the University of Copenhagen. Neurophase will focus specifically on signaling proteins in the brain that play a role in various brain disorders and diseases.
“Our goal is to explore whether the formation of biomolecular condensates by liquid-liquid phase separation can lead to novel concepts to treat brain diseases. By being part of BII’s Bio Studio program, we can focus on working towards spinning out a company from the beginning, which is a major advantage and something I’m very excited about,” says Kristian Strømgaard and adds:
“We are tapping into a ‘red hot’ field, as biomolecular condensates have gained much attention in academia, biotech, and the pharmaceutical industry during the last few years. However, there is no doubt that it remains vital to further investigate the structure and function of specific condensates to utilize them for therapeutic purposes.”
One example of such hype from investors around biomolecular condensates is the Boston-based company Dewpoint Therapeutics, which in 2022 raised a Series C financing of USD 150M to advance its biomolecular condensate research and therapeutics platform.
Vast entrepreneurial experience
Kristian Strømgaard’s lab at the University of Copenhagen focuses on peptide and protein engineering with putative therapeutic applications. Developing and bringing peptide-based drugs to a development stage is not new for Strømgaard and his research group. In 2012, he founded the spin-out company Avilex Pharma and recently brought its lead compound AVLX-144 successfully through phase 1 clinical trials.
Additionally, Kristian Strømgaard was appointed as Distinguished Innovator by the Novo Nordisk Foundation in 2021 and won the 2021 Innovation Award at the University of Copenhagen.
BII is thrilled to have attracted such entrepreneurial capacity to the Bio Studio program.
“The team’s expertise in peptide drug discovery will further fortify BII’s positioning as the place to be for developing peptides into efficient therapies. The Neurophase project considers biomolecular condensates as a new lens to view and target brain diseases to provide treatments to patients with no cure or hope,” says Louise Clemmensen, Director of Science Strategy at BII.
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, the intellectual property generated during the project period will remain at the University of Copenhagen.
Solid vantage point for exploration
Besides the support from BII to build a viable company, Kristian Strømgaard has received a DKK 20M grant from the Lundbeck Foundation to explore and strengthen the project’s scientific foundation.
The combination of grants from BII and the Lundbeck Foundation provides a perfect framework for the Neurophase project, according to Nikolaj Petersen, who has been hired as the Entrepreneur in Residence of the project during its time in the Bio Studio program. He further emphasizes that his professional background fits perfectly with the project.
“Neurophase resonates well with my background in working with rare and orphan central nervous system diseases. I have a passion for investigating and driving innovation in this area. I have followed the field of biomolecular condensates since the first studies indicated a link to neuronal disease,” says Nikolaj Petersen.
Facts about biomolecular condensates:
For decades, the lipid bilayer membrane has been considered the fundamental organizing principle of cells. However, a growing appreciation of membrane-less organelles or biomolecular condensates has led to a redefinition of this model.
Biomolecular condensates are transient, liquid-like droplets of proteins or RNA complexes formed via liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS). Since the first observation of LLPS’ in 2009, multiple examples of biomolecular condensates have emerged as a common feature of protein and RNA assembly in many branches of cellular biology, including the brain, in both health and disease.