our founders' story.
Chris, Bart, Dominic: first of all, tell us what problems you aim to solve.
Our overarching ambition is to improve the prospects and the quality of life of people suffering from cancer types with a lot of stroma ('collaborating tissue') or fibrotic diseases. These people are now faced with very few effective treatment options, which moreover generate severe side effects. In these diseases, pathogenic fibroblasts are among the main drivers of disease progression. In high-stromal tumors, they orchestrate tumor growth, metastasis, suppression of the immune system and therapy resistance. In fibrosis, they are responsible for the replacement of normal functioning tissue with nonfunctional scar tissue, leading to organ failure.
Many people are trying to target these disease-associated fibroblast, but despite these efforts one major, unanswered issue is still remaining: many basic processes in our body rely on the proper functioning of normal fibroblasts. Up to now, no one had managed to selectively target the disease-associated fibroblasts. All current strategies also harm normal fibroblasts, leading to severe side effects, treatment discontinuation or dose limitation and poor efficacy.
We became passionate about tackling this outstanding problem, and we are very excited to be able to finally provide an answer to this longstanding unmet need: Amalus Therapeutics has discovered the first and only molecules that selectively target disease-associated fibroblasts, while leaving normal fibroblasts untouched. We are now developing these molecules in to a well-tolerated first in class drug for use in fibrosis and solid tumors.
What inspired you to embark on an entrepreneurial journey?
In our founder's team we are all, for different but in a way very closely related personal reasons, very passionate about translating our scientific experience into something meaningful for people with unmet medical needs. I think you need this kind of deep motivation to compensate for all the struggles, setbacks and the sheer length of the drug discovery process. If you cannot offset these challenges by a very profound internal drive, you sooner or later give up. Certainly if you are pushing uphill in new and uncharted terrains, like we are doing.
Our team is opportunistic and willing to take risks. We focus on the narrow ray of light contained in the opportunity of the program, rather than on the many dark shades cast by all sorts of known and unknown hurdles, which might otherwise easily be overwhelming. And another major factor contributing to the successful creation of Amalus Therapeutics is that we were so fortunate to cross each other's path at the right time in our careers, in the right place enabling innovative research, while recognizing the opportunity at hand. It's this unique blend of entrepreneurship, energy and of course a large dose of luck, that you need to make transformative advancements that we aspire.
How do you differentiate yourself from others, and how do you make a difference?
We are unique in the fact that we are the only ones able to selectively target disease-associated fibroblasts while leaving normal fibroblasts and normal body functioning unharmed. We have accomplished that by using a fundamentally different strategy compared to our competitors. They all started their quest from a particular target on disease-associated fibroblasts. Unfortunately, all of these targets are shared with normal fibroblasts or other cell types. This leads to the side effects explained earlier. The current understanding of fibroblast biology is limited in the fact that there are no known targets exclusive to disease-causing fibroblasts. We have, therefore, used a reverse approach: we have screened many molecules in our unique cell models, until we were able to identify hits that selectively acted on disease-associated fibroblasts, and not on normal fibroblasts or other cells.
This selectivity not only allows us to differentiate in terms of safety, but also in the superior potential to combine our agents with other drugs. Combination therapies are especially important in cancer and fibrosis, since these are very complex and multifactorial diseases. In such cases, it is highly unlikely that one agent will make a significant and lasting difference. We envisage combinations of our drug with currently used regimens that are familiar to physicians, in order to increase acceptance of our product. We expect that our molecule will not only provide significant therapeutic benefits on itself, but that it will also amplify these existing therapies and broaden their scope of application to new cancer and fibrosis indications and settings. Finally, we also made data-driven, strategic choices in terms of priority indications that differentiate us from others.
What are the first milestones you plan to achieve?
We are continuously deepening our insights into the fascinating biology of fibroblasts. An important milestoneswill be the completion of a number of ongoing preclinical efficacy studies, and the expansion of our team. In that respect, we have just hired a very talented scientist biology, Marlies Burgelman, who obtained her PhD at the Flemish Institute of Biotechnology (VIB), which is widely recognized as a leading biotech knowledge center.