At the LifeSciences@Work Alumni Summit of June 17th, Nico van Meeteren, Director of Top Sector Life Sciences & Health announced Mercurna as the winning team of the 15th Venture Challenge. Mercurna is developing a first-in-class precision medicine for chronic kidney disease, based on the identification of a unique kidney-targeting peptide. The startup team has already shown in mice, that this peptide, derived from an endogenous protein, is able to encapsulate and deliver mRNA specifically into the cells of the glomerulus, thereby avoiding systemic (side-) effects.
In vitro models based on glomerular cells proved that from each delivered mRNA molecule several thousands of therapeutic protein molecules are produced by the cells, without the inherent safety issues of other therapies based on genetic information.
The members Mercurna team that participated in the Venture Challenge Spring 2016 Edition are all from RadboudUMC in Nijmegen.
Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a great unmet clinical need, covering a wide-spectrum of diseases, commonly denominated by progressive, damaging inflammation of the glomerulus (the filter of the kidney). More than 850 million people are affected worldwide. These patients are at risk of developing end-stage renal disease (ESRD), requiring dialysis and/or kidney transplantation to remove naturally occurring toxins from their blood.
To slow the progression to ESRD, currently numerous systemically acting drugs are being employed, which are known for their dose-limiting side-effects. As a consequence, current CKD treatments are often ineffective in stopping progression of the disease from early stage to late stage. The CKD market for the Western world therefore surpasses US$ 200B.
“It is our mission to provide CKD patients with an effective kidney-specific treatment without systemic side-effects“, states Sander van Asbeck, CEO Mercurna: “and thereby free them from worries about dialysis or kidney transplantation“.
The Mercurna lead formulation combines the unique peptide with an optimized mRNA encoding for an anti-inflammatory protein and is able to alleviate inflammation in glomerular cells. Based on the results so far, the Mercurna team believes that their formulation can beat current CKD treatments in terms of efficacy and safety. Furthermore, research has indicated options for application of the lead formulation in indications outside the kidney (including but not limited to Asthma, Crohn’s disease and Eczema).
In the next 5 years, Mercurna aims to develop their lead until the end of a combined phase I/II trial for 2 indications, for which they are looking for investors and strategic partners.