05/03/2021 | The show

ACHEMA Start-up Award Finalist: PROSION

Making the undruggable druggable

How many ways are there to treat a disease? So far not enough. PROSION has set out to build a platform of building blocks for new pharmaceutical drugs against hard-to-treat diseases.

Protein-protein interactions are the main targets for phamarcological intervention. However, currently more than 85 % of proteins can not be addressed. “Existing pharmaceutical methods are running out of new ways to reach hard-to-treat diseases. This is because only 15% of the human proteome is currently considered as druggable. If we are to have a better chance of fighting these diseases, we need to unlock the remaining 85 % that is considered undruggable”, explains Slim Chiha, co-founder and CEO of PROSION. “That is exactly where PROSION’s technology comes into play: our proprietary platform accelerates drug development for undruggable targets of urgent diseases, starting with breast & pancreatic cancer.”

Building drugs from bricks

A relevant share of these so-called “undruggables” consist of protein targets that recognize proline-rich motifs (PRM). They play a role in a variety of diseases, including cancer metastatis, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. PROSION has established a platform of Proline-derived molecules that compete with PRM: “Our innovation is based on our rationally designed building blocks – we call them “ProMs”. They adopt a unique structure, allowing them to address a specific family of "undruggable" targets”says Slim Chiha. “As a platform, they can essentially be fused together, much like LEGO bricks, into potential drugs. For our proof of concept in breast and pancreatic cancer, we could show that a small molecule drug containing two ProMs caused a remarkable suppression of cancer cell invasion and overall tumor growth.”

Now the ProM-platform will serve as a basis for the development  of  ProM-based  lead compounds. PROSION is both striving to push its own drug compound through pre-clinical and clinical development, but also offering access to its ProM-platform to potential partners.

Realizing one’s ideas

But why take the long road in founding a start-up? Slim Chiha explains it with the satisfaction gained from following through with an idea he and his team are convinced of: “A leading pharmaceutical company approached me about the potential of our platform during a conference back in 2018. I realized that there is an opportunity to turn our idea into a reality here. Seeing how this academic research evolved over the years and to get it to point where we are today is highly fulfilling for the entire team. Our clear vision being, to have a ProM-based drug on the market in the future, is something that pushes us every day to continue our work.”

Even though he has to admit that the transition from an academic to an industrial setting was challenging – “This would include adopting a biotech mindset, being as time and cost effective as possible, developing executive leadership skills as well as more bureaucratic aspects, such as the IP-transfer” – he remains convinced of having made the right decision. This is supported by his experiences when talking to potential partners and investors: “Thankfully for us, the science behind our project is something that a lot of people can relate to. Cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease affect many people, thus convincing externals of our purpose and mission happens often very naturally.”

Finding partners for the ongoing journey

The chance to present PROSION to the international expert community at ACHEMA Pulse and ACHEMA comes at the right time, says Slim Chiha: “We are now at a pivotal stage to validate our technology by completing preclinical trials of our first oncology project. We are therefore looking for investors and potential bio-pharmaceutical partners to help quickly bringing our main asset into the clinic. We are looking forward to making meaningful connections and inviting potential stakeholders to join us on PROSION’s journey.”

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