Dr Maarten Kraan, styrelseledamot i Toleranzia, är med sin omfattande medicinska kompetens i kombination med erfarenhet från ledande positioner inom stora läkemedelsbolag, en viktig kugge i arbetet med bolagets båda läkemedelskandidater. BioStock har kontaktat Maarten för att få hans syn på bolagets utveckling och potential.
Bioteknikbolaget Toleranzia utvecklar nya läkemedel med målet att bota eller långtidsverkande kraftigt lindra autoimmuna sjukdomar. De nya läkemedlen verkar genom att återge immunförsvaret dess förmåga att korrekt identifiera kroppsegna ämnen och därmed förhindra felaktiga immunreaktioner som ger upphov till autoimmun sjukdom. Bolaget har för närvarande två huvudprojekt i sin pipeline; TOL2 för behandling av myastenia gravis, samt TOL3 för behandling av ANCA vaskulit.
En som har en stark tilltro till bolagets teknik är Toleranzias styrelseledamot Maarten Kraan, utbildad klinisk immunolog och reumatolog med lång erfarenhet. Han har innehaft en lång rad ledande positioner inom stora läkemedelsbolag, däribland Bristol-Myers-Squibb, Roche-Genentech, AstraZeneca och Schering Plough. Maarten har även arbetat för StellargenesGreer och Pierre-Fabre samt varit CMO på Theracon, ett bolag som såldes till Pfizer. I slutet av oktober tillträdde han rollen som Chief Medical Officer (CMO) på nederländska AM-Pharma, ett läkemedelsbolag som specialiserat sig på leversjukdomar, sepsis och organskador.
Deltog i sommarens emission
Maarten Kraan har suttit i Toleranzias styrelse sedan 2018. Att han har en stor tilltro till bolaget visar han inte bara genom det arbete som han lägger ner i rollen som ledamot, han har även visat sig vara en engagerad aktieägare i bolaget. Per den 30 juni uppgick hans innehav i Toleranzia till 47 620 aktier och i sommarens emission var han med och tecknade 15 476 units till kursen 9 kronor.
BioStock har kontaktat Maarten för att höra hur han ser på Toleranzias potential och vägen framåt.
Maarten, you have a solid background as a clinical immunologist and rheumatologist. Could you tell us a bit more about your academic and professional background and what that brings to Toleranzia?
– I have always been intrigued by the immune system and how it, on one hand, is a very sophisticated machinery that protects us from many threats without us even noticing, but, on the other hand, it also can cause serious debilitating diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and myasthenia gravis.
– When studying the immune system, we have learned that it actively scouts and recognises molecules that are acceptable and should be left alone and molecules that are potential threats and should be removed. When this goes wrong the system tries to remove components that are needed for us to lead normal lives and this results in so called auto-immune diseases.
– Over the past decades, I have been actively involved in the research and development of medicines that treat these auto-immune diseases. However, these treatments always tried to block the mechanisms that caused the symptoms of the diseases – the pain, inflammation, and damage. We were not able to treat the root cause of the dysregulation of the immune system.
– During the same period, we also learned that in allergies you can teach the system to behave normally again and become what we call tolerant towards the element that triggered the faulty response. Toleranzia is aiming to apply this principle of tolerance induction in auto-immune diseases starting with myasthenia gravis. I am very interested in the science behind this but also in improving the lives of the patients and families that suffer the consequences and do not have effective and safe treatments with the upside that if this works the patient will be cured, which will be tremendous.
»The Toleranzia team has successfully moved into one of the most challenging areas for a small biotech, i.e. the move from probing academic experiments on the effectiveness of the potential medicine to repeated testing and multiple conformations of safety and efficacy in an industrial environment.«
How did you come in contact with the company?
– Since I moved to AstraZeneca in 2010, I have focused on the local collaboration between big companies, academia, and start-up companies in the Göteborg area. Having spent time at Genentech, I have seen what a great community they have created in the Bay Area, San Francisco, and how this opened great opportunities and created tremendous synergies that each party could have never achieved alone.
– The small biotechs as incubators of cutting-edge science derived from creative academic research that is further matured in larger companies has especially proven to be a great source of new and unique medicines. When I was asked by GU-Ventures to help Toleranzia in their journey I did not need to think twice before accepting.
You joined the board in 2018. What made you join and how would you describe the development of the company since then?
– The Toleranzia team has successfully moved into one of the most challenging areas for a small biotech, i.e. the move from probing academic experiments on the effectiveness of the potential medicine to repeated testing and multiple conformations of safety and efficacy in an industrial environment. Similarly, they have transitioned from small scale internal production to manufacturing by a contract manufacturing organisation against the high bar of industrial standards.
The company is in the process of taking TOL2 to clinical trials. What are your expectations on the TOL2 project and what do you think it can possibly bring to people suffering from Myastenia Gravis?
– The ambitions at Toleranzia are high. As stated before the aim is not to dampen the disease but to actually stop the immune system targeting the parts of the nerve-muscle contact that causes the signs and symptoms of the disease, and this could be defined as a cure. Of course, we do not know whether the patients have sequalae stemming from previous diseases, but time will tell.
Since March this year, the company is also working on TOL3, a candidate for the treatment of ANCA vasculitis. What is your take on that project?
– I think it reflects the ambition of the company that they are engaging with a second autoimmune disease using the unique knowledge that they have acquired during the development of TOL2. I also think it is a confirmation of their quality that they have already successfully attracted external financing for this.
How are these two rare diseases treated today?
– Myasthenia gravis is treated by inhibiting the enzyme that breaks down acetyl choline, increasing its half-life at the neuromuscular junction. The receptor for acetyl choline is the element that is attacked and destroyed by the immune system. This is not a very effective treatment. In addition, general immunosuppressive drugs are frequently used.
– ANCA-vasculitis is treated by general suppression of the immune system with medicines that very frequently have serious short-term and long-term side effects.
What sets Toleranzia’s candidates apart from these treatments?
– As discussed previously the aim is not to slow down the breakdown of an element or suppress the immune system, but to re-educate the immune system in order to make it cease behaving in a way that is harmful to the patient.
How would you describe the development in the field of autoimmune diseases in recent years?
– The past decades have been very exciting because we have been able to seriously improve the lives of many patients with very serious diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis to give just some examples. Until recently these patients were not only severely debilitated, but they also had a life expectancy that was much lower compared to healthy individuals.
– However, all current treatments try to modify the pathways that are involved in the pathogenesis of the disease, and they do not address the root cause which is that the immune system erroneously recognises molecules needed for a normal life as foreign.
How would you describe the competitive landscape for Toleranzia’s projects?
– Very few companies are working in the field that Toleranzia is active in. I believe that Toleranzia has chosen the diseases they work with very carefully and they are very rare diseases, so-called orphan diseases, that the big companies traditionally are not interested in early on. At this stage, this allows Toleranzia to be very focused and efficient, and after the initial clinical studies I expect that they will be a highly interesting company for other parties to build partnerships with.
What do you think are the key components to ensuring success in the ongoing projects?
– I think it is for Toleranzia to keep doing what they have been doing: 1) be rigorous on the science, 2) be focused on quality, and last but not least 3) be focused on what really matters and not be distracted by peripheral items.
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