Attacking arthritis

University of Birmingham forms spinout to develop new therapeutic target for RA

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BIRMINGHAM, U.K.—The University of Birmingham—through its innovation, incubator and technology transfer operation University of Birmingham Enterprise—recently announced the formation of a new spinout company, Viatem Ltd., to develop and exploit the therapeutic potential of PEPITEM (Peptide Inhibitor of Trans-Endothelial Migration).
The announcement coincided with the presentation of new research showing that synthetic PEPITEM can prevent or delay the onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in animal models of disease, and restore regulation of white blood cell migration in human tissues. RA is an autoimmune disease that affects over 20 million people worldwide, results in extensive damage to joints and causes significant disability. Currently, there is no curative treatment.
PEPITEM is a 14-amino acid peptide and a naturally occurring mediator in the adiponectin pathway that controls the recruitment of immune cells into inflamed tissues. The pathway was discovered by researchers at the Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Birmingham, and described in their seminal paper in Nature Medicine in 2015.
The adiponectin pathway is believed to be pivotal in protecting inflamed tissues from excessive damage, and is disordered in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes, all of which are characterized by chronic inflammation that destroys the patient’s own tissues.
According to Dr. Jonathan Watkins, head of intellectual property at University of Birmingham Enterprise, it was the foundational nature of the science that first attracted the attention of the university’s technology transfer and commercialization teams. “It is extremely rare that a completely new regulatory pathway is discovered, and that it is possible to modulate it through an identified target,” he noted.
“Despite substantial innovation over the last few decades, there are still significant unmet needs in rheumatoid arthritis treatment,” added Dr. James Wilkie, CEO of University of Birmingham Enterprise. “We are delighted to be commercializing this novel therapeutic target, which is supported by a robust and increasing body of evidence.”
The new research, presented at the Latin-American Association of Immunology in Cancun, Mexico, earlier this year, showed the administration of synthetic PEPITEM:
  • Inhibited the onset of collagen induced arthritis (CIA) in mouse models (measured by clinical score, autoantibody, bone erosion and incidence) compared to controls (when administered prophylactically)
  • Reduced disease severity in CIA mouse models (measured by clinical score, ankle and footpad thickness, leukocyte infiltration, bone erosion and autoantibody) compared to controls (when administered therapeutically)
  • Improved regulation of T cell recruitment in ex-vivo human peripheral lymphocytes taken from newly presenting RA patients (measured by T cell migration and response to adiponectin).
The university has licensed the technology to the newly formed spinout company Viatem Ltd. The university is a shareholder in the company, which has received funding from Innovate UK, the West Midlands Academic Health Science Network and the University of Birmingham’s Enterprising Birmingham Fund. Viatem is located in BioHub Birmingham, the university’s bioincubator, which is based at the Birmingham Research Park.

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