Inflammation is part of the body’s defense mechanism. It defends the body against harmful factors such as bacteria, viruses, or mechanical damage to cells. But sometimes the regulation of inflammation does not function as it should. This can lead to a number of serious conditions.
Inflammation can be either acute or chronic. The harmful agents are fought during the acute phase of inflammation, but sometimes this acute phase is followed by chronic inflammation, which in itself can lead to severe medical conditions. Chronic inflammation is also referred to as slow, long-term inflammation lasting several months to years. Generally, the extent and effects of chronic inflammation vary with the cause of the injury and the ability of the body to repair and overcome the damage.
Chronic inflammation is an underlying cause of many diseases for which we currently lack effective drugs and treatments. Consequently, the pharmaceutical industry is highly involved in terms of both research and investments in finding safe and effective anti-inflammatories.
Our research strategy has a clear focus. We focus on developing new innovative drug candidates that can relieve and prevent chronic inflammation and dysfunctional immune reactions, such as autoinflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
An important cornerstone in our strategy is to continue to build knowledge and strengthen our network of academic scientists, people with a background in the pharma industry, and CRO companies. Altogether, this will provide unique opportunities to form strategic alliances for finding new innovative solutions made possible by the latest scientific developments in the field of inflammation.
Aqilion’s business concept is to develop new drugs for patients who currently lack good treatment. Our strategy for success is to include sustainable development as part of our business. Read more about our view on sustainability.
Our scientific approach
In recent times, new research findings in this field have yielded important knowledge and opened up potential novel approaches to fight serious diseases.
A wide range of agents are involved in the inflammation process. Some of the key players are inflammasomes, protein complexes that are activated instantly when cells react to harmful and foreign substances, cytokines, blood-borne “messenger proteins”, and kinases, enzymes that function inside the cells as intermediaries and switches of the cytokines’ messages.
Several biological drugs developed in recent years have been shown to have an effect against inflammatory diseases by targeting a particular cytokine, so that this cannot reach the receptors on the surfaces of cells and activate kinases in the cells. However, there are important problems left to be solved, both regarding side effects and limited efficacy in some patient groups. Research has shown that it is often not a single cytokine that is the culprit, but patterns of several cytokines. Specific patterns are associated with specific inflammatory diseases.
Aqilion’s main approach is to identify kinases that are activated by multiple cytokines. By targeting the kinase directly with an inhibitor that can penetrate into the cell, an effect could be achieved that would otherwise require modulation of several cytokines with a number of antibodies. By using a small molecule that selectively binds to a specific kinase side effects should also be minimized. The next step is to match patterns of cytokine activity with patterns of improper immune regulation in inflammatory diseases in order to select the diseases to be targeted in the clinical development.
Two of the current programs in Aqilion’s pipeline reflect this approach. The program closest to clinical phase, Regulus, is based on a selective inhibitor of janus kinase 1 (JAK1) and will first be evaluated for the treatment of eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an inflammatory disease of the esophagus for which there is a great need for new treatment options. The Alnitak program is based on an inhibitor of another kinase (TAK1) and Polaris on modulation of the inflammasome NLRP3.
An important part of Aqilion’s research strategy is also to continue to build knowledge about the important kinases, within the company as well as in the company’s extensive network of external researchers.
In addition to the suppression of the inflammatory response through kinase inhibitors, Aqilion has chosen to include a second research strategy to relieve and prevent chronic inflammation by adding the program Girtab to the pipeline. Girtab focuses on an immune modulating approach using an aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) agonist. AhR is a transcription factor that is crucial for the maintenance of intestinal homeostasis. AhR is a promising target for the treatment of IBD.