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UCL spin-out aims to smuggle antibodies across the blood-brain barrier

By Anthony King , 27-May-2014

UCL spin-out aims to smuggle antibodies across the blood-brain barrier

A collaboration involving academia and industry is to develop new ways of delivering antibodies to the brain using molecular envelop technology developed by Nanomerics, a UCL spin-out company.

The company has partnered with University College London and Exeter University in the UK and the Danish pharma company H Lundbeck.  The consortium aims to develop antibody medicines that are active in the brain and can treat conditions such as dementia, brain cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.  It received funding of just over £1 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) in the UK. 

To start with, an attempt will be made to smuggle antibodies across the blood-brain barrier using polymer nanoparticles. 

“We are looking at structures that are very small in size, so 100 to 500 nanometres, sometimes as small as 40.  And these are composed of self-assembling molecules,” said Ijeoma Uchegbu, Chief Scientific Officer at Nanomerics and professor of pharmaceutical nanoscience at UCL.  “We will be marrying these particles with the antibody to create new functionality that allows the antibody to access brain parenchyma tissue.”

The key focus of the three-year project will be to address neurodegenerative diseases, an increasing issue in Europe given its ageing population.  Uchegbu said that they have a menu of ideas they will work through, based on promising preliminary data, including from animal studies. 

“We have a programme of experimentation that we are going to go through rationally in order to determine what characteristics of the nanoparticle are needed and from a biological perspective what characteristics are best suited to access the brain tissue,” Uchegbu told this publication. 

She could not provide more details – there could be a significant competitive advantage at stake here and commercial companies are involved, she adds.

There is a lack of low molecular weight chemical entities being approved, and pharmaceutical companies seem to be getting more mileage if they tap into biologics, so antibodies, genes, enzymes and things like that, Uchegbu explained, and biologics tend to be quite potent drugs and tend not to have many off-target effects. 

“But there is a compartment in the body that they do not have access to – the brain,” she added.  “Even if you inject antibodies you can’t get them into the brain, because they are quite large, at least 500 times larger than a lot of other chemicals.”

H. Lundbeck specializes in medicines for brain diseases, while Exeter University is developing innovative non-invasive imaging of medicines techniques.  The award came from the EPSRC, the largest UK research council, and was from its Health Impact Partnerships award scheme. 

“The call we were successful in getting money from was focused on collaborations with industry, where industry has to have a cash contribution.  And this comes from the two [industry] partners,” said Uchegbu. The project will kick off in the third quarter of 2014. 

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