Lipum’s journey told by CSO and Co-founder
Lipum’s drug development is based on the discovery of Bile Salt-Stimulated Lipase and its role in inflammatory processes. The company’s CSO Susanne Lindquist contributed to the discovery during her research at Umeå University, which she tells more about in an interview with BioStock. In addition, we get to know more about Lipum’s journey from its beginnings in 2010 to today, a listed company in clinical phase with the drug candidate SOL-116.
Lipum is an Umeå-based biopharmaceutical company that has identified a unique target protein for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases – Bile Salt-Stimulated Lipase (BSSL).
BSSL is initially known for being a fat digestive enzyme found in breast milk, which was discovered by Professor Olle Hernell almost 50 years ago. Later, his research group at Umeå University discovered that BSSL is also found in the blood and that it is secreted from granulocytes, a type of white blood cell. This made them understand that BSSL also plays an important role in inflammation.
Lipum was founded in 2010 after exciting discoveries
After further studies on the pro-inflammatory function of BSSL, the research group realised that the inflammation can be reduced by inhibiting the protein. Olle Hernell, Susanne Lindquist and Lennart Lundberg saw the medical potential and founded Lipum in 2010.
Since then, Lipum has developed the monoclonal antibody SOL-116 that blocks BSSL. This is expected to inhibit inflammation and provide a safe and efficacious treatment for chronic inflammatory diseases.
Interview with Susanne Lindquist
Susanne Lindquist has been involved in Lipum’s research and drug development since the company was founded in 2010. Today, she is working full-time as Lipum’s CSO.
Susanne has a PhD in microbiology and is Associate Professor in experimental paediatrics at Umeå University. She has done more than 20 years of research on BSSL and has published over 20 scientific articles on the subject. BioStock contacted Susanne Lindquist to find out more about her research.
Could you first tell us a little about yourself and your background within research?
– I have a doctoral degree in molecular biology from Umeå University where I defended my thesis on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I was then employed as a post-doc in Olle Hernell’s research group at the Department of Paediatrics.
– It was then, in the mid-90s, that I first came into contact with BSSL. Olle Hernell had long discovered BSSL in breast milk, and his research group was particularly dedicated to researching the protein. I received a scholarship from the The Swedish Society of Medicine to study the importance of BSSL for new-born babies’ ability to digest and assimilate fat from breast milk.
How did you come to the conclusion that BSSL also has a role in inflammatory processes?
– Previous research had shown that BSSL is not only found in breast milk, but also in the blood. However, it was not known where BSSL came from and what function it had in the blood.
– We looked at many different tissue and cell types and discovered that BSSL was mainly found in inflamed tissue and in a special type of inflammatory cells, so-called granulocytes. From there, we hypothesized that BSSL had several different functions. We predicted that, in addition to contributing to the effective utilisation of milk fat in breastfed babies, BSSL also has an important role in inflammatory processes. This led us to shift the focus of our research, from infant nutrition to studying the function of BSSL in inflammation.
»We looked at many different tissue and cell types and discovered that BSSL was mainly found in inflamed tissue and in a special type of inflammatory cells, so-called granulocytes. From there, we hypothesized that BSSL had several different functions«
And what did you do next that made you realise that there is medical potential?
– Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease of the joints. We used experimental animal models for RA and were able to show that mice that lacking the BSSL-coding gene did not get sick. They were basically completely protected from developing inflammation in their joints.
– That is where the whole Lipum project started. We predicted that with the help of an antibody, it would be possible to block the function of BSSL and thus prevent inflammatory diseases. We tested several different antibodies targeting BSSL in different RA models and saw that they alleviated the disease in both mice and rats.
– With the help of SciLifeLab, we were able to continue the project and develop our drug candidate, the humanised antibody SOL-116. We have tested the antibody in different models for inflammatory joint disease and have seen that it has a good disease-inhibiting effect without any side effects. We have also worked a lot with compiling all the documentation required to start the clinical phase I study with SOL-116. The trial is now roughly halfway through its development.
Why did you choose rheumatoid arthritis as your first focus area?
– The reason why we chose RA as the first indication was first and foremost because there is a great need for new treatment options for patients with this disease. Our antibody SOL-116 also gave good effect in preclinical studies, which strengthened our conviction that we were on the right track.
»The reason why we chose RA as the first indication was first and foremost because there is a great need for new treatment options for patients with this disease. Our antibody SOL-116 also gave good effect in preclinical studies, which strengthened our conviction that we were on the right track«
– Many RA patients are not sufficiently helped by today’s treatments. Insufficient or diminishing effect are common problems. Some of the drug alternatives also give rise to side effects, forcing patients to discontinue their treatment.
– So even though there are many drugs on the market, new, alternative drugs with a different mechanism of action are needed – and that is what we have in Lipum! SOL-116 affects signalling pathways other than, for example, TNF inhibitors, which are the most common biological drug for RA today. SOL-116 also belongs to the group of biological drugs that have a higher selectivity and lower risk of side effects overall compared to small molecule drugs.
You also evaluate other inflammatory diseases in preclinical studies. What diseases are of particular interest to Lipum?
– We will primarily look at inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but we are also interested in other inflammatory diseases. We believe that BSSL has a role in inflammation in general and not just in RA.
Could you more specifically describe the function of the BSSL in inflammatory processes?
– We have done a lot of research on the function of BSSL in inflammation, but we have not yet fully clarified the mechanism. What we know is that BSSL is secreted from granulocytes and binds to another type of inflammatory cells (monocytes). This initiates a cascade of events that stimulate the migration of inflammatory cells to the source of inflammation. SOL-116 blocks BSSL from binding to monocytes, thereby dampening the inflammatory process.
– We see that patients with inflammatory diseases have a higher concentration of BSSL in the blood than healthy people, which supports our theory.
What will be your main focus in 2023?
– We are in the middle of the phase I study with SOL-116, which will generate very exciting data during the year. Many samples from the study will be analysed and some of that work will be carried out here in our laboratory in Umeå.
»We are in the middle of the phase I study with SOL-116, which will generate very exciting data during the year […] In addition, the preclinical work continues, where we test SOL-116 in indications other than RA«
– In addition, the preclinical work continues, where we test SOL-116 in indications other than RA. We will also compare the effect of SOL-116 with other established biological drugs.
– We have a solid research plan and a number of ongoing or planned collaborative projects to increase the understanding of the mechanism of action and the function of BSSL in inflammation.
– In summary, we have a lot of exciting research going on!
Today, Lipum is a listed company in clinical phase with SOL-116. Did you think you would get this far when you started the company?
– I could never have dreamed of that – I have to pinch myself sometimes. Today we are five employees and a large group of dedicated consultants who cover different areas of expertise. In total, we are up to 30 people involved in the company who have a lot of fun together.
»I could never have dreamed of that – I have to pinch myself sometimes. Today we are five employees and a large group of dedicated consultants who cover different areas of expertise. In total, we are up to 30 people involved in the company who have a lot of fun together«
– In the beginning, it was just me, Olle Hernell and Lennart Lundberg. Both Olle and Lennart are still involved in our preclinical research and active in the company, Olle as board member and Lennart in the company’s scientific advisory board.
– When Lipum went public in the spring of 2021, I switched to working full-time in the company. Before that, I also had one foot left at the university. Since then, it has gone very fast and many exciting things have happened, not least that our first clinical study with SOL-116 has started. I look forward to continuing to be part of Lipum’s journey!
Learn more about Lipum on the company’s website.The content of BioStock’s news and analyses is independent but the work of BioStock is to a certain degree financed by life science companies. The above article concerns a company from which BioStock has received financing.