Spotlight: Q&A with Michael Almstetter, CEO, Origenis

Michael Almstetter, CEO
Michael Almstetter, CEO

Q: What does Origenis do?
A: Origenis is creating small molecule drugs capable of penetrating the blood-brain barrier and therefore treating neurodegenerative diseases – commonly known as Central Nervous System, or CNS, diseases. Our technology-based drug design process develops faster, more specific compounds. I am pleased to note our platform has been validated through internal projects and external partners, and has yielded several patented drug candidates now in late stage clinical development since its application in 2005.

Q: What was your inspiration for founding Origenis? What do you hope to achieve?
A: Our goal is to fight neurodegeneration by breaking the vicious cycle that contributes to CNS diseases. That cycle includes microglia activation, which leads to neuro-inflammation, and then cell death, in turn contributing to microglia activation and so on. By inhibiting any of these phases of the cycle, Origenis can help regarding several chronic and acute neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia and Multiple Sclerosis as well as Traumatic Brain Injury and Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy.

Q: How does Origenis’ drug discovery platform work?
A: Origenis drug discovery platform has four major pillars: MOREsystem®, MolMind®, and Cippix® represent the proprietary technologies for the fast identification, seamless optimization and efficient synthesis of patentable new chemical entities. The pharmacological efficacy of our compounds is assessed and optimized with BRAINstorm™, the key technology for generating and optimizing brain penetrating compounds at Origenis.

Q: Sounds interesting, is there a competitive advantage?
A: Absolutely! With our leveraging unique chemistry capabilities we provide continual IP-protected new chemical entities. Our unique drug discovery process allows a faster and more specific development of compounds and delivers de-risked new chemical entities for partners, and of course for ourselves. As noted earlier, our platform has been validated not only through internal projects, but also with external partners and has yielded several patented drug candidates.

Q: Can you give us insight into current projects?
A: Origenis develops several, distinct small molecule drugs, which nicely cross the blood brain barrier with no need for a special formulation. These drugs act highly specifically on selected protein kinases responsible for microglia activation, neuronal cell death and neuroinflammation.

Our front-runner is our LRRK2 (Leucine Rich Repeat Kinase 2) therapeutic program. Inhibition of LRRK2 results in a significant decrease in neuronal damage. This opens the avenue for a first disease-modifying treatment in the field of Parkinson’s disease. Our LRRK2 lead drug candidate has outstanding compound properties in terms of potency and selectivity and an execellent brain penetration and PK profle. It should be mentioned that we were the first company to show in-vivo efficacy in an acute neuroegeneration model with our brain available LRRK2 inhibitor.

In addition to the therapeutic programs, Origenis also develops specific PET tracers – necessary tools to translate preclinical compounds into clinical drugs. These PET tracers are a huge strategic advantage in this highly competitive field. Origenis 18F-radiolabelled LRRK2-specific PET tracer, the only one available in the world. This represents the key differentiator in the LRRK2 field and opens a range of partnering and licensing options.

Q: Why is there so much excitement about LRRK2?
A: Two words: science and impact. There is now a deeper understanding of the science and a broader understanding of the impact. In terms of science, a mutation in LRRK2 has been identified as a genetic marker for Parkinson’s disease. In terms of the impact, we have people like Michael J. Fox who has the disease, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin who has the marker. Thus there is more interest from foundations, big pharma and others.

Q: Who else is on the Origenis leadership team?
A: Origenis was founded in 2005 by Michael Thormann, CSO, Andreas Treml, COO and myself. We previously worked together at a multinational biotech company, developing technologies and functioning as a business unit. We have a proven track record in drug design, compound synthesis and characterization. We are based in Munich, Germany and recently added CFO Thomas Loeser who brings financial and deal making expertise, in both Europe and the U.S.

Q: What is Origenis’ business strategy going forward?
A: Since we are already established as an R&D partner of choice, we have a track record of steady and profitable growth of R&D collaborations. That being said, we extended our business model towards faster value creation and are currently seeking up to €20 million for Series A financing to advance our internal pipeline.

We have full ownership of all projects, results and data packages. Our partnering strategy entails out-licensing assets from our significant IP and R&D portfolio and building partnering agreements with large pharmaceutical companies.