The University of Zurich breeds new spinoffs

With 147 spin-off companies created, the University of Zurich remains a fertile group for researchers to transform their ideas into a business. Last year, four new spin-offs focusing on biopharmaceuticals and biomedicine emerged after signing a licensing agreement with UZH. The spinoffs are developing new products or therapies, including a device that tests the quality of donor organs, a drug that combats depression and anxiety, and one to treat malignant tumours as well as immunotherapies to combat cancer.

Qrsens: Testing the quality of donor organs
The quality of donated organs has an effect on how well the body will tolerate the new organ after transplantation. Since the quality of organs can’t be determined with certainty in advance, however, a significant number of donated organs worldwide remain unused. The Spin-off Qrsens wants to change this with a device that analyses the metabolic state of the organ during machine perfusion, in which the organ is connected to an artificial circuit and prepared for transplantation. The measured metabolic state correlates with the organ function after implantation.The solution will enable medical professionals to make more reliable transplantation decisions. The innovative procedure is based on many years of research and the recently developed perfusion machine by Pierre-Alain Clavien, UZH professor of surgery and transplantation, director of the UniversityHospital Zurich’s Department of Surgery and Transplantation and co-head of the Liver4Life project.

Reconnect Labs: Battling depression and anxiety
Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are widespread across the globe. However, less than 50 percent of affected patients suffering from depression have fully recovered with existing optimized standard treatments. The 2021 Winterthur based startup Reconnect Labs wants to develop an alternative solution based on psychedelic substances to treat affective disorders more in a more patient-centered, rapid, and sustainable fashion. Clinical trials have already shown that psychedelic compounds such as ketamine, psilocybin, LSD and ayahuasca can quickly relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Based on the findings of the junior research group at the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, psychiatrist Milan Scheidegger and pharmaceutical scientist Dario Dornbierer developed a novel drug, which they have already tested on humans. Further clinical trials involving patients will assess the tolerability and safety of the drug.

New approach to CNS drugs
InCephalo is working on new therapies for diseases of the central nervous system (CNS). Treating CNS diseases with drugs is difficult mainly due to the blood-brain barrier. Only very few drugs manage to overcome this barrier and take effect directly in the diseased tissue. The company’s Compartment Locked Biologics technology aims to optimize antibodies for direct delivery past the blood-brain barrier and into the CNS, with the biomolecules engineered so as to take effect in the CNS exclusively. The novel technology was developed by Johannes vom Berg, group leader for brain tumour research, together with his team. It is based on research carried out under Thorsten Buch at the Institute of Laboratory Animal Science.

For their first drug precursor for treating malignant brain tumours (glioblastoma), the company was given orphan drug status by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). InCephalo is currently assessing the development of further substances for the treatment of multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

Vector BioPharma:High-precision gene transport
Biopharmaceutical spin-off Vector BioPharma develops cutting-edge gene delivery solutions that can transport genes for therapeutic agents, such as antibodies and cytokines, directly into cells or tissue. The business is based on the research of professor of biochemistry Andreas Plückthun – and is already his third UZH spin-off.

Vector BioPharma focuses on viral vectors that no longer carry any viral genes and bypass the immune system to bind to specific cells in the body. Such vectors make it possible to administer very large DNA molecules, whose genes can be activated in the cells as needed, without their DNA entering the genome in the nucleus. This complex technology is used to develop new therapeutics and improve the safety, effectiveness and specificity of drug delivery – with the aim of providing patients with more targeted treatment options. The spin-off is currently focusing on the development of immunotherapies against cancer.

(Press release/RAN)