Munich, 29 April 2020 – Scientists in Hamburg are aiming to improve therapy for HIV patients with a new gene- and cell-based method. At the Hamburg biotech start-up Provirex, they are developing a new therapeutic approach using ‘molecular scissors’ to cut HIV genes out of the genome of infected cells, thus eliminating the virus. This could at last make it possible to remove the virus rather than keeping it in check, as with current forms of treatment. Ascenion GmbH and the Innovationsstarter Fonds Hamburg GmbH have acquired shares in the newly founded company. Provirex will press ahead with the further development of Brec1 recombinase technology, particularly with regard to simpler and more direct forms of drug delivery.
The concept is based on research by Prof. Joachim Hauber and his team at the Heinrich Pette Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology (HPI) and Prof. Frank Buchholz at the Technische Universität (TU) Dresden. Prof. Buchholz previously worked at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics. Together, the scientists have developed and optimized the designer recombinase Brec1 – so-called ‘molecular scissors’. The approach is currently being developed for clinical trials in a collaboration between the HPI and the Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). The initial evaluation will be in the form of stem-cell therapy in eight HIV patients at the UKE’s stem-cell transplantation clinic, headed by Prof. Nicolaus Kröger. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Senate of Hamburg and ForTra gGmbH für Forschungstransfer of the Else Kröner-Fresenius Foundation are providing grants and investment funds to finance the trial.
Hamburg’s Science Senator, Katharina Fegebank comments: ‘The Hamburg start-up PROVIREX can make a crucial contribution to the fight against HIV and AIDS. The participation of Ascenion and the Innovationsstarter Fonds Hamburg provide an important basis for transferring these research results into application. With this method of therapy developed by the HPI and others, it may be possible for the first time to remove HIV from patient cells precisely and permanently – a historic medical and societal breakthrough on the way to curing HIV and AIDS. The next step is to validate and implement the new therapeutic approach in the clinical trial at the UKE. I thank all those involved for their great commitment, and wish them every success in the development process.’
Michael Westhagemann, Senator for the Economy, Transport and Innovation adds: ‘This is an important sign of hope in the fight against HIV and other currently incurable diseases. I am delighted that this signal is being sent from Hamburg together with other partners, showing that not only do we have excellent research, but through the Innovationsstarter Fonds Hamburg, also provide suitable funding instruments for innovative solutions on their way to the market.’
Ascenion, the HPI’s technology transfer partner, has supported the project intensively from the beginning. ‘We are delighted that the exceptional dedication of all those involved – in basic science, medicine, technology transfer and government – has resulted in the transfer of this promising approach into clinical trials here in Germany,’ says Dr Christian Stein, CEO of Ascenion.
‘This could be a milestone in the fight against HIV,’ adds Prof. Hauber. ‘We are delighted to be developing our promising research results into innovative treatment methods here at the UKE campus in Hamburg.’
Dörte Bunge of the Innovationsstarter Fonds Hamburg GmbH comments: ‘The technology developed by Provirex Genome Editing Therapies GmbH and its affiliated cooperation partners could contribute to a breakthrough in the treatment of HIV and offers significant potential for the successful treatment of other conditions.’
About PROVIREX Genome Editing Therapies GmbH
PROVIREX Genome Editing Therapies GmbH, based in Hamburg, Germany, is a privately-held biotech company developing first-in-class Advanced Therapy Medicinal Products (ATMPs). PROVIREX’s technology is based on recombinase driven error-free genome editing for eradication of life-threatening persistent virus infection. Provirex, founded in October 2019, received seed financing in March 2020. The company holds exclusive licenses for recombinase technology and has “Freedom-to-Operate” (FTO).
Further information: www.provirex.de
About Ascenion GmbH
Ascenion is an independent technology transfer company focussing on the life sciences. It is partner to 30 research organizations, universities and university hospitals in Germany and Europe, including life-science institutes of the Helmholtz and Leibniz Associations, the Charité, the Hannover Medical School, the Medical University of Innsbruck and the University Medical Center Göttingen. Ascenion’s multidisciplinary, industry-experienced team works closely with its partners to tap the potential of their research by identifying promising results, obtaining patent protection, and turning pure science into applied technology. Particular strengths are spin-off support and project development, where early-stage projects are transformed into assets that attract potential investors and licensees. This has led to the founding of numerous new companies and the transfer of innovative medical approaches into approved drugs, changing the lives of thousands of patients. Profits from Ascenion’s operative business and exit proceeds flow via its parent company, the LifeScience Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Research, to fund further translational research at its partner institutes.
Further information: www.ascenion.de
About Heinrich Pette Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology
The Heinrich Pette Institute, Leibniz Institute for Experimental Virology (HPI) investigates the biology of human pathogenic viruses with the aim of unraveling the molecular mechanisms that control viral life cycles and virus induced pathogenesis. The institute applies basic experimental research to develop new approaches for contemporary treatments of viral infections such as AIDS, influenza and hepatitis but also of emerging viral diseases.
The HPI was established by the philanthropist Philipp F. Reemtsma and the neurologist Heinrich Pette in 1948. The institute is a non-profit, independent research foundation that is part of the Leibniz Association.
Further information: www.hpi-hamburg.de
About the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE)
Founded in 1889, the UKE is one of Europe´s most modern clinics and with more than 11,000 employees one of Hamburg’s largest employers. Together with its University Cardiovascular Centre and the Martini Clinic, the UKE has more than 1,730 beds and treats approximately 507,000 patients per year. Its areas of research focus include neurosciences, cardiovascular research, healthcare research, oncology, and infections and inflammations. The UKE trains approximately 3,300 doctors and dentists at its Medical Faculty. Knowledge – Research – Healing through Shared Competence: The UKE
Further information: www.uke.de
About Innovationstarter Fonds Hamburg
The Innovationsstarter Fonds Hamburg invests venture capital in young innovative Hamburg companies in order to strengthen the Hamburg start-up scene and contribute to the development of promising companies. The plan provides for open participations in corporations up to a maximum of EUR 1 million. Investors in the fund are equally divided between the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The fund is managed by IFB Innovationsstarter GmbH, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hamburgische Investitions- und Förderbank.
Further information: www.innovationsstarter.com
About Max-Planck-Innovation GmbH
Max Planck Innovation (MI) is responsible for the technology transfer of the Max Planck Society and, as such, the link between industry and basic research. With an interdisciplinary, team MI advises and supports scientists at Max Planck Institutes in evaluating their inventions, filing patents and founding companies. MI offers industry unique access to the innovations of the Max Planck Institutes. Thus, MI performs an important task: the transfer of basic research results into products that contribute to economic and social progress.
Further information: www.max-planck-innovation.com
About ForTra gGmbH für Forschungstransfer
ForTra gGmbH für Forschungstransfer der Else Kröner-Fresenius-Stiftung (EKFS) is a subsidiary of EKFS that is recognised as a non-profit organisation under German tax law. The purpose of the company is the promotion of medical science and research, as well as the promotion of public health, by transferring medical research results into clinical application for the benefit of public healthcare. Using the EKFS funding line for translational research, ForTra supports selected projects whose successful implementation will lead to a high patient benefit.
Further information: www.ekfs.de
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Pressestelle | Behörde für Wirtschaft, Verkehr und Innovation
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PROVIREX Genome Editing Therapies GmbH, Oliver Ahnfeld
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Ascenion GmbH, Stanislava Zollner
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