The 2012 Innovation Award of the biotechnology regions in Germany was presented to Prof. Ulrich Schraermeyer in Frankfurt am Main.
The Tübingen-based researcher received the award in recognition of his idea to use an active substance to treat the dry form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In order to bring the therapy into the clinic, Prof. Schraermeyer founded Katairo GmbH to enable him to patent and market his findings as quickly as possible.
In Germany alone, around 4.5 million people suffer from the dry form of age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness in the industrialised world. Up to now, dry AMD has been considered untreatable. However, Prof. Ulrich Schraermeyer, head of the Experimental Vitreoretinal Surgery section at the University Eye Hospital Tübingen, has discovered that the oral administration of tetrahydropyridoethers (THPE) leads to a significant removal of lipofuscin (Fig.1) from RPE cells (1). In addition, further in vitro experiments revealed that human RPE cells also released their lipofuscin after drug treatment. The gradual accumulation of lipofuscin and drusen in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) during a lifetime is a feature of both wet and dry AMD, but especially the dry form. The resulting degeneration or geographic atrophy (GA) of the retinal cells leads to a gradual loss of vision. Thus it would seem logical that the removal of lipofuscin from the RPE cells might restore their normal physiological function and hence stop the progression of the GA. But until now, there has been no drug known to remove existing lipofuscin efficiently from the RPE or other cells in the body.
Shortly after the findings were published, the first investors from the United States already showed an interest. Prof. Schraermeyer recognises the significance of his findings. He therefore founded Katairo GmbH, based in Kusterdingen near Tübingen, to enable him to patent and market the active substance under the name Remofuscin©. “Potential investors need a company to invest in”, explains Prof. Schraermeyer. The fact that the active substance has already been developed to clinical phase II by a pharmaceutical company – for a completely different application – also makes the discovery interesting for investors. This means that the active substance stands an excellent chance of receiving fast approval for clinical phase I treatment of dry AMD. “Because the medical need is great and there has been no treatment whatsoever to date, the likelihood of financing through venture capital or the pharmaceutical industry is high”, says Prof. Schraermeyer. “I estimate that around five million euros would be sufficient to carry out a phase I study for the treatment of dry AMD.”
Prof. Schraermeyer received the Innovation Award of the biotechnology regions in Germany in Frankfurt am Main. The award is in recognition of his idea, which has resulted in the discovery of a possible treatment for the causes of dry AMD. The panel of experts all agreed that this project from the STERN BioRegion is a prime example of excellent basic research coupled with economic feasibility.
As the sector association of the biotechnology industry, BIO Deutschland has set itself the objective of supporting and promoting the development of an innovative economic sector based on modern biosciences.
The Berlin-based association currently has over 285 members. It is run by a board of ten members consisting of CEOs and managing directors of biotechnology companies, as well as directors of BioRegions. This committee comprehensively represents the various fields in the sector.
Prof. Ulrich Schraermeyer
University of Tübingen