05/27/2021 | The show

ACHEMA Start-up Award Finalist: PRAMOMOLECULAR

Fighting cancer with a shuttle service

Developing new active pharmaceutical ingredients is one thing. But how does the molecule get to the right place in the body? That requires transport systems. PRAMOMOLECULAR has developed and applied for a patent for a particularly simple system. With this technology therapeutic oligonucleotides will be transported into the target cell in order to silence disease-causing proteins in the lungs, heart or pancreas.

As early as 2002, science magazine named siRNAs the “scientific breakthrough of the year”. siRNA stands for “small interfering RNA”. siRNAs are double helices built from 20-25 base pairs. They attach to complementary RNA, thereby silencing it and stopping the replication of virus, but also gene expression.

But how does siRNA get to the gene it is supposed to silence? That’s what the scientists at PRAMOMOLECULAR are dealing with. "With so-called siRNAs, you can specifically silence any disease-causing gene and thus also theoretically fight any disease, as long as you can introduce the siRNAs into the affected body cell. So far, this only works well in liver cells, but we have developed transport molecules with which we can also deliver siRNAs into lung and pancreas cells. This is also where the future company name comes from, because 'pramo' means 'ferry' in Esperanto. “ explains Dr. Thomas Hiller, Head of Development and future CTO of PRAMOMOLECULAR. The main aim is the fight against cancer.

The future founders rely on their expensive experience working with siRNAs. When they gained access to a library of delivery molecules that had been developed for other drug candidates, they screened it for the transport of siRNA – and struck gold. The lipid-based molecules that patents have been applied for bind directly to the siRNA; thus, “packaging” in nanoparticles or additives are no longer required. Ida Shaef, future CSO,  is looking forward to the further founding steps: "If we succeed in providing our proof of concept in the disease-specific animal model, we see great opportunities to develop compounds against serious diseases that cannot be treated so far. This is a demanding and wonderful challenge."

By participating in the ACHEMA Start-up Award, the four founders want to create even more visibility for their company. "We are happy about everyone who shows interest in us and whom we can convince of our idea.  If this results in cooperations, for example with an investor or also on a scientific level, then we are always interested.” says Dr. Thomas Hiller. So far, their experiences have been positive: ”Getting others excited about our idea has been easier than expected.” says Ida Shaef. And project lead and future CEO Dr. Merle Fuchs hopes for "Even more enthusiasm!" for PRAMOMOLECULAR’s ideas.

The micro- and molecular biologist has extensive experience in founding – she has been involved in founding seven start-up companies and has advised hundreds of companies on technology development and financing. "Germany has particularly good technological conditions for founding deep tech start-ups with disruption potential.” she states.  And founding is much more than “only” having a good idea: “We high-tech founders not only invest an incredible amount of time in technology development, market understanding, customer, and investor acquisition, but also in "storytelling" to clearly explain what we do and why this is important.” However, she would like to see even greater fundamental interest in these start-ups: “Because these problems, on which each of us deep-tech founders works far more than 5 days a week and 8 hours a day, are serious, the solutions we develop are also neither readily available nor easy. Unfortunately, there is often not enough patience and interest in our topics, neither in politics nor among investors or 'normal citizens'. And better basic scientific and technical knowledge would also make the dialogue – and perhaps even the funding of our start-ups – easier!"

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