Updated on 11 March 2013
Dr Stephen Thompson, director, Helmedix, Australia
Valentine's Day, which is marked as a day to commemorate the death anniversary of Saint Valentine, saw the birth of a very promising early stage biopharmaceutical company in Australia named Helmedix. The firm is aiming to develop novel therapies for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. The start-up was launched with investment from Australia's Medical Research Commercialization Fund (MRCF).
The company will develop therapeutic peptide drugs based on the intellectual property from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS)'s ithree institute. Dr Sheila Donnelly's, lecturer, UTS, revealed that research programs at UTS are focused on elucidating how helminthes parasites are successful at infecting and surviving in their mammalian hosts. This has resulted in the characterization of a number of molecules that are secreted by the parasites and which modulated the host immune response in order to dampen the normal protective response. The activity of these molecules allows the parasites to survive within the mammalian hosts for many years.
Dr Stephen Thompson, director, Helmedix, said, "The profile of the mammalian protective immune response is similar to that activated in a number of immune-mediated diseases. So we were prompted to ask whether these parasite-secreted molecules might also be able to inhibit the immune responses that are known to be responsible for autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. As developed societies have reduced the incidence of parasitic infestations, the rate of allergies and autoimmune diseases has dramatically increased. In developing nations where such parasitic infestations remain endemic, the incidence of allergies and autoimmune diseases is relatively low."
The company has been cleverly named Helmedix as it was born out of the idea that proteins derived from helminth parasites (Hel) could be used to develop medical therapeutics (Medix). Dr Thompson said, "We developed this name over the course of a few weeks and tossed around quite a few ideas." Dr Donnelly has identified a number of immune modulating peptides derived from parasitic helminth worms, one of which is effective in suppressing the inflammatory response of the host and has shown therapeutic potential in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes. This immune modulating activity indicates potential for broader application in a variety of autoimmune diseases. Dr Thompson mentioned, "The Microbial Imaging Facility at the ithree institute will provide OMX super resolution imagery. This will provide an unprecedented view of the interaction of the helminth-derived peptides with cells of the mammalian immune system."
The company has managed to secure $1.28 million (A$1.25 million) from the Medical Research Commercialization Fund (MRCF). MRCF is an innovative investment collaboration that invests in early stage development and commercialization opportunities emanating from Australian medical research institutes and allied research hospitals.