Professor emeritus Olle Hernell, co-founder and board member of Lipum, has been honored with The International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactations (ISRHML) Macy György award 2021 for his studies on breast milk and breastfeeding. BioStock contacted him to find out more about his research and his hopes for Lipum’s drug candidate SOL-116, which is being developed for treatment of several different inflammatory diseases such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Umeå-based Lipum is a biopharmaceutical company specialising in the development of new treatment for chronic inflammatory diseases. The company has developed the drug candidate SOL-116, a humanised antibody that blocks Bile Salt-Stimulated Lipase (BSSL), which is a not previously targeted molecule in the immune system.
Professor Emeritus Olle Hernell, Associate Professor Susanne Lindquist and Professor Lennart Lundbergfounded Lipum in 2010 based on the discovery of BSSL. Olle Hernell has now received the Macy György award 2021 for “outstanding lifetime achievement in scientific contributions to the study of human milk and lactation”. The award was given during the International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactations scientific congress, that is held once every two years, this year arranged on 16-20 August 2021. In a press release, Olle Hernell is congratulated by Lipum’s CEO Einar Pontén:
»It is a strength with Lipum’s high scientific level and we congratulate Professor Hernell for the recognition of his scientific contributions«
Hernell’s many years of research
Olle Hernell is Professor Emeritus in pediatrics and former head of the unit for pediatrics at the Department of Clinical Sciences at the University of Umeå. For almost 50 years, Hernell has been studying breast milk and its importance for the uptake of nutrients in newborns with a special focus on the fat-degrading enzyme BSSL. Hernell and his research group discovered BSSL in breast milk and later also found that the molecule plays an important role in inflammation. This led to the founding of Lipum and the development of the antibody SOL-116 which blocks the pro-inflammatory function of BSSL and thus inhibits inflammation.
Olle Hernell has published almost 300 scientific articles and he is internationally recognised for his research in pedriatic nutrition, especially breast milk and breastfeeding. His scientific findings have now been honoured with the Macy György award, an honourable award in the field.
The Macy György award
The Macy György award has been given every two years since 1995 to honour researchers who have made great scientific discoveries in the study of breast milk and breastfeeding. The award is named after Icie Gertrude Macy and Paul György, two prominent researchers and pioneers in human breast milk and breastfeeding research.
The winner is selected by a committee within The International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactation (ISRHML) and this year Olle Hernell was chosen as the recipient.
Interview with Professor Olle Hernell
BioStock contacted Olle Hernell to find out more about the research that led to him being awarded, as well as his prospects for the future of Lipum’s drug candidate SOL-116 for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases.
First of all, congratulations to the Macy György award! Can you tell us a little about the Macy György award and how it felt like to receive such an honorary award?
– It was very flattering to receive the Macy György award! It confirms that my achievements in my research in breast milk and breastfeeding is of value.
– The Macy György award is given by an association called The International Society for Research in Human Milk and Lactations (ISRHML). The association was founded in the early 1980s and the first international scientific congress was held in 1984 in Winter park in Colorado. This was one month after my family and I had arrived in Boston for a year at Harvard. We drove to Winter Park and at the meeting I met well-known researchers in the same field. Since then, I have been a member of ISRHML and on the board as well as being involved in organising a couple of congresses.
– I feel strongly for ISRHML and therefore it feels extra rewarding to be honored with the Macy György award. A number of candidates were nominated and after reviewing the candidates, the committee selected me as the recipient of the award, which of course is a great honour. Moreover, I have received many congratulations from colleagues and others in the industry, which of course also is very pleasant.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your professional background?
– I am a pediatrician and have been a professor of pediatrics but now I am professor emeritus. For quite a few years I was responsible for pediatrics at Umeå University. Nowadays, I spend most of my time at Lipum, where I am a board member and Chief Medical Officer, and I still also have some research projects together with my colleagues at Umeå University. In addition, I am a member of several advisory boards in various companies.
Would you also like to tell us a little about your scientific findings that led to you receiving the award?
– My research goes back to the early 1970s when I worked as a third assistant professor at the Department of Medical Chemistry. I was then given the task of purifying the fat-degrading enzyme lipoprotein lipase from breast milk. In this connection, we discovered another fat-splitting enzyme that we later came to call bile salt-stimulated lipase (BSSL).
– We chose to investigate whether BSSL is significant for the digestion of fat in the small intestine of the breastfeeding child and we were able to show that this is the case. Later we discovered that BSSL also is found in the blood. Susanne Lindquist and I started to thinking about where BSSL in the blood comes from – through uptake from the intestine or secretion from any organ other than the pancreas and lactating mammary gland? In this way, we discovered that BSSL comes from granulocytes, a type of white blood cells. We then began to suspect that BSSL has a role in inflammation. We investigated this further in animal models where we used knock-out mice, i.e. mice that lack the gene for BSSL and various mouse and rat models for arthritis (joint inflammation). It turned out that mice lacking BSSL were protected from developing inflammation compared to normal mice, so-called wild-type mice.
– These discoveries led us to embark on a completely new research track and we thought about how our findings could be applied in humans. Knocking out the gene for BSSL in humans was not an option, but we quickly got the idea that an antibody directed against BSSL could have the same effect. After positive results in our animal models, we realised that such an antibody could act as a drug for the treatment of patients suffering from chronic inflammation. With that the idea of Lipum was born!
»Knocking out the gene for BSSL in humans was not an option, but we quickly got the idea that an antibody directed against BSSL could have the same effect. After positive results in our animal models, we realised that such an antibody could act as a drug for the treatment of patients suffering from chronic inflammation.«
– BSSL has a proinflammatory effect and is thus one part of the body’s own defense mechanisms. When the inflammation cannot be stopped by the body, it is called chronic inflammation and this is what causes rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile idiopathic arthritis, JIA. Lipum’s treatment strategy is to use an antibody with BSSL as the target molecule to reduce inflammation in these diseases.
Did you ever think that your research would eventually lead to the start of a pharmaceutical company listed on a market place and that is now approaching clinical phase?
– Of course, it is great that Lipum has been founded! We have grown quite quickly since I, Susanne and Lennart founded the company. Lipum has recruited very competent people to the team who have more experience of running a company than the three of us have. Now we are also listed, which has given us extra capital for the development of our humanised antibody SOL-116.
»Of course, it is great that Lipum has been founded! We have grown quite quickly since I, Susanne and Lennart founded the company.«
– A driving force during these years has been the great need for new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile idiopathic arthritis as well as other chronic inflammatory diseases. During my years as a doctor, I met several patients who have to live with their problems as no treatment worked optimally for them. Being able to help these patients has really stimulated me both in the past and in this project, and since I am a pediatrician, it is no wonder that I am extra passionate about developing a new and effective treatment for pediatric arthritis.
What is your plan for the development of SOL-116 in the next few years?
– The goal is to start clinical trials with SOL-116 in 2022 and it looks like we will be able to follow that plan. Toxicology and safety studies in animals are currently underway to ensure that the drug candidate is safe. To be able to use the drug candidate in humans we will now also start to manufacture SOL-116 under GMP standard.
»The goal is to start clinical trials with SOL-116 in 2022 and it looks like we will be able to follow that plan.«
– To ensure that the treatment does not lead to any side effects the first phase I study will include healthy individuals. After that, we will conduct clinical trials in adult patients with rheumatoid arthritis to evaluate the efficacy of SOL-116. We probably have the capacity and resources to conduct studies with SOL-116 within JIA. In addition, in this area, there is an opportunity to obtain Orphan Drug Designation (ODD) which may provide some benefits during the drug development.
– We will primarily focus on the treatment of JIA in children and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in adults in the clinical program. In parallel, we will preclinically evaluate other possible indications. We already have some positive results and we will continue to collect more preclinical data. Our plan is to complete the drug development within JIA. When it comes to RA and development for other indications, we are open to partnerships with bigger pharmaceutical companies.
Finally, what is your thought regarding the future potential of Lipum and its drug candidate?
– It is obvious that there is a great need for new treatment options for arthritis. Currently, approximately 30 per cent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis do not respond to treatment with TNFα inhibitors, the most common biological drug for rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, about a third of the patients must stop the treatment because of diminishing efficacy or side effects.
– Our drug candidate SOL-116 is a humanised antibody that targets the target protein BSSL to suppress the inflammation. This is a completely new target molecule and thus provides a different approach. It looks very hopeful that SOL-116 can be developed into a new biological drug for chronic inflammatory diseases. Due to the mechanism of action of SOL-116, we have reason to believe that SOL-116 can be given in combination with other anti-inflammatory drugs, including other biological drugs. In summary, there are great opportunities for Lipum and our drug candidate SOL-116.
»It looks very hopeful that SOL-116 can be developed into a new biological drug for chronic inflammatory diseases.«
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