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The immense, but undeclared, health issue of our time: mental illness. How UCB spinout Syndesi exemplifies Europe’s lead over the US in tackling dementia, cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer’s.

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The News:

Syndesi Therapeutics SA (Louvain-la-Neuve BEL) has been formed by biotech UCB SA (Brussels) and a group of investors, including Novo Seeds and V-Bio to develop a group of compounds for cognitive disorders (CDs) caused by diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Syndesi Therapeutics will use UCB’s expertise in drug discovery for neurological conditions to develop new therapies in CDs using a new class of drugs that have demonstrated pro-cognitive properties in preclinical studies, according to

The investment was backed by the likes of Fountain Healthcare and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, which helped to raise a Series A fundraising of €17M that will fund the work to demonstrate early proof-of-concept in humans.

CDs can vary between mild and severe depending on how badly abilities like learning, memory, perception, and problem-solving are affected, Labiotech notes. Some common symptoms of cognitive impairment are confusion, poor motor coordination, memory loss, and identity confusion, which can have a major impact on daily life.

With diseases associated with cognitive impairment on the rise, including Alzheimer’s, which affects 5.5 million people in the US alone, there is a rapidly growing need to find ways to slow or reverse their effects.

Syndesi will focus on a new batch of compounds that regulate the synaptic vesicle protein SV2A. The compounds were originally developed by UCB’s researchers, but they fell outside the ambit of the company’s area of concentration.

This drove the creation of Syndesi, which will develop the candidates to ensure they reach their full potential. Unlike other SV2A modulators, this new class lacks anti-epileptic properties and, instead, has demonstrated good pro-cognition effects in preclinical models.

Jonathan Savidge, CEO of Syndesi, commented: “Development of these small molecules that modulate the SV2A target in a distinct manner represents an intriguing new approach for the treatment of cognitive deficits since they specifically target synaptic dysfunction, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease and other indications characterized by cognitive impairment.”

The field of neurology is a particularly difficult area in which to develop drugs, as highlighted by the recent failures of potential Alzheimer’s drugs, notably by Eli Lilly & Co. (Indianapolis IN), Merck & Co. (Kenilworth NJ), and Axovant Sciences Ltd. (London). However, European companies are quickly filling the breach as such failures have not slowed down the huge amount of research going into treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Led by Andrea Pfeifer, Swiss biotech AC Immune SA (Lausanne) is developing two platforms to treat the disease, while UniQure NV (Amsterdam) hopes its expertise in gene therapy will help it to conquer Huntington’s disease. Some observers believe that with companies finding it problematic fighting the underlying causes of neurodegenerative diseases, perhaps UCB and Syndesi are taking a better approach by targeting specific symptoms.

The development of molecules to slow or reverse cognitive decline could be particularly effective if combined with an early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, something Spanish biotech Biocross SL (Boecillo) is endeavoring to accomplish .

Steve’s Take:

When it comes to health and medical technologies (medtech), Europe is teeming with innovative startups like Syndesi, geared to discover new ways to help us live longer and healthier lives. Not that the US has abandoned that quest entirely.

Far from it.

But from analytics to apps, wearables to sensors, and headsets to mobile devices, the ingenious tech revolution reshaping health and medtech is finding a natural home in Europe.

From Dublin to Zurich, Stockholm to Berlin and elsewhere, the fusion of hardware with software and analytics is creating the perfect storm when it comes to innovations that will help us understand our bodies and hopefully live happier, healthier and longer lives.

Today, we see an urgent need to tackle the growing burden of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But why has the US lagged in the area of cognitive disorders, leaving the rest of the world to take the lead in combatting such an immense disease realm?

He notes that worldwide, an estimated billion suffer from anxiety, 300 million people are affected by depression, 60 million suffer from bipolar affective disorder, about 21 million are affected by schizophrenia or other severe psychoses and nearly 50 million people have dementia, a number that is expected to grow to 152 million in 2050–a 204% increase.

In addition, challenges such as lack of resources and trained healthcare providers, inaccurate assessment and social stigma compound the problem of effectively addressing the mental health epidemic.

While this urgent need is escalating, the science around mental health and brain diseases remains complex, and public and private funding for neuroscience research does not correspond with, or come close to, matching the investment in other disease areas.

“We are making significant advances in neuroscience and increasing understanding of the brain and brain disorders, but the growing prevalence of mental illness, particularly in young people, combined with soaring rates of Alzheimer’s and gaps in research and care have the potential to create a global crisis, Stoffels contends. “The solution is ‘disruptive innovation’ and international, open collaboration. And we don’t have to start from scratch. Science and technology offer us unprecedented opportunities.”

Bottom Line:

Dr. Stoffels and Wellcome Trust director Jeremy Farrer, MD, argue that to take advantage of the opportunities, all nations must work together to solve some key challenges. First is the need for an integrated approach, combining risk assessment and early diagnosis, disease interception and treatment, as well as supportive interventions.

Steve's Take: We need to bring diagnoses, treatments and even cures to #Mentalillness that impacts all of us--directly or indirectly--at some point in most of our lives.
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Second, strong public-private partnerships between academia, biotech, industry, government, regulators, patient groups and civic society.

Finally, innovative financing mechanisms are needed to spur investment. With a global funding mechanism functioning collaboratively and efficiently across borders and disciplines, a platform can be established and comprehensive approach adopted to reduce the time, cost and risk of developing and evaluating treatments.

Here in the US, the issue of mental health is compounded by its clear association with crime sprees, like the Texas church massacre in 2017. President Trump said the Texas shooting was largely a “mental health” problem, but at the beginning of his presidency, he rolled back a regulation that would have made it harder for people with histories of mental illness to purchase guns. All the signs of such illness were abundantly clear long before that horrible event.

With the wise counsel of people like Drs. Stoffels and Farrar, startups like Syndesi in Europe and here in the US and around the globe will shrug off the shackles of the mental-health lie and its associated stigma.

Let’s just get down to the science of how to bring diagnoses, treatments and even cures to an illness that impacts all of us–directly or indirectly–at some point in most of our lives. I think we can all agree: the sooner, the better.

This post first appeared on Monday Morning, please read the originial post: here

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The immense, but undeclared, health issue of our time: mental illness. How UCB spinout Syndesi exemplifies Europe’s lead over the US in tackling dementia, cognitive impairment caused by Alzheimer’s.


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