Meet the start-ups: Kariya Pharmaceuticals - BioInnovation Institute

Meet the start-ups: Kariya Pharmaceuticals

Meet the start-ups: Kariya Pharmaceuticals

In February 2019, Kariya Pharmaceuticals joined the Creation House program to advance their work in developing drugs to slow the progression of diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The company is based on Dr. Christian Hölscher’s groundbreaking work in the field of incretins and neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Hölscher is the CSO of the company while Dr. Mikael Thomsen is CDO. He brings extensive experience with incretins into the company from his time at Novo Nordisk. Company CEO, Ian Laquian, is responsible for bringing the founding team together and took the initiative to establish the company in Copenhagen.

Today, Kariya Pharmaceuticals is moving closer towards Phase 1 clinical trials, and we sat down and spoke with Ian about the company.

What problem are you solving?
Our lead program is indicated for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, which is the second most common neurodegenerative disease and the most common movement disorder in the world.  The disease is characterized by a loss of dopamine-producing cells that leads to the deterioration of motor and cognitive function, and unfortunately to date, no drugs exist that slow the progression of the disease.

How do you do that?
The drugs we are developing act as neuroprotectants to cells at risk of degeneration. Our drugs work through a host of mechanisms – such as enhancing cellular energetics, improving growth factor signaling, and reducing neuroinflammation – and have demonstrated efficacy in multiple animal models of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

When did you realize you were on to something?
In my time as the Director of CNS strategy at Takeda, I had been following Christian’s work very closely. Our teams were generally less focused on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s proteinopathy theories and believed that there was something happening to patients long before the accumulation of toxic proteins in the brain. We understood Type 2 Diabetes to be a significant risk factor for developing these neurodegenerative diseases and that the conditions also share similar pathologies.  At the time, Christian had published some remarkable work on the neuroprotectant effects of incretins in animal models of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, but our interest really peaked when human clinical data emerged from University College in London showing positive effects of the incretin analogue Exenatide in improving motor function in Parkinson’s patients. Christian continued to explore new modalities and eventually designed some novel molecules that showed better efficacy than Exenatide in vivo. That’s when I knew we had something viable.

What attracted you to the Creation House program?
When I left Takeda in 2017, it was with the intent to find some novel molecules and start a company around this novel concept.  Of course, all good ideas need a helping hand, and the BII’s Creation House program provided a timely opportunity to access DKK 10M to get the ball rolling. Money is helpful, but equally important is the location. The biotech ecosystem here in Denmark has everything a biotech entrepreneur needs to succeed, and specifically for what we’re doing at Kariya, I could think of no better place in the world to start this company given that the expertise on incretins in the Copenhagen area are second to none.

What are you currently working on?
Our lead candidate is currently on its way to completing the toxicology experiments required by regulators prior to advancing the drug to human trials. We’ve laid out a plan to get to Phase 1 for the DKK10M convertible loan granted by BII. It’ll be by the skin of our teeth, but we’ll get there. Advancing through this stage of development will significantly de-risk the project and will help in securing additional capital and/or a license or acquisition from an interested pharma partner.  While that will certainly be a great accomplishment, it’ll pale in comparison to that day we eventually start treating Parkinson’s patients.

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