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Tübingen-based start-up Atriva Therapeutics GmbH develops innovative flu drug
Highly effective against seasonal and pandemic influenza


Atriva Therapeutics GmbH, a start-up from Tübingen, is developing an innovative flu drug. The company aims to launch the drug as the successor to the drugs currently available on the market. The active ingredient is based on drugs that have already been clinically investigated – MEK inhibitors – and is designed to avert the risk of resistance and to show efficacy over a longer timeframe than current products. The founding team and scientific board are made up of renowned scientists and experienced executives from the pharmaceutical industry.

The flu season starts in autumn and the first calls for vaccination, such as that of the Robert Koch Institute, start to appear in the media at this point. Indeed, viral flu, or influenza, is highly contagious, and seasonal epidemics can become pandemics. Every year, up to ten percent of the adult population are infected by the influenza A virus, which proves fatal to an average of 500,000 people, who are usually elderly or patients with pre-existing conditions such as a weakened immune system. In the western industrialised nations, a maximum of 40 percent of the population is protected by vaccinations, and only insistent calls succeed in raising this figure slightly. People who come down with real flu are usually given a flu drug as treatment. Dr. Rainer Lichtenberger, CEO of the start-up Atriva Therapeutics GmbH in Tübingen believes there is a draw-back to this approach: “The leading licensed drug is only effective when taken within a day of infection and, what’s more, a lot of flu viruses are already resistant to it.”

That is why a group of renowned university scientists led by Tübingen-based influenza expert and virus researcher Prof. Oliver Planz and his colleagues Prof. Stephan Ludwig from Münster and Prof. Stephan Pleschka from Giessen has, for several years, been carrying out successful research on a completely new flu treatment based on MEK inhibitors, which act on the cellular enzyme MEK. Their work is the foundation on which Atriva Therapeutics GmbH is being established. MEK inhibitors are a highly promising anti-viral treatment that blocks the signal factors in human cells that the virus needs in order to multiply. They are currently used primarily to treat cancers, where they block uncontrolled signalling in the cells that promote the growth of tumour cells. MEK inhibitors are already licensed as a treatment for tumours. The team of researchers at Atriva developed the idea of using signal inhibitors that act against tumours to counter influenza viruses, as infections with influenza viruses also activate a range of intracellular signalling paths. In fact, a number of pre-clinical studies has already shown that MEK inhibitors are highly effective against influenza virus infections as well as other viral infections.

The approach taken by Atriva also impressed the regional BioRegio STERN Management GmbH during the Science2Start ideas competition in 2013. The company was founded in spring 2015 in Tübingen, which – in the words of Dr. Lichtenberger – is “one of the most vibrant and agile biotechnology locations in Germany”. So far, the company has been financed solely by its founders, but it hopes to secure risk finance amounting to 15 million euros by 2016 – until then, none of the founders is taking remuneration for their activities for the company. “This financing should secure the first clinical trial phase up to 2019,” explains Lichtenberger, who – along with Emilie Hofstetter, Dr. Sebastian Canisius, Rolf Naumann and Dr. Henrik Luessen – brings a great deal of pharma-specific entrepreneurial expertise to the start-up. There are still a few years and intensive trials to get through before the drug can be introduced into the market. “These clinical studies are essential,” explains Lichtenberger. “After all, our drug is to be used by millions of people around the world and will set a new standard in the treatment of flu.” The company expects to make hundreds of millions in annual sales five years after the worldwide market launch – unless an international pharmaceutical group snaps it up in the meantime.

About Atriva Therapeutics GmbH: ATRIVA Therapeutics GmbH (“ATRIVA”) is a young German biopharmaceutical company that is active in a number of areas, including the treatment of infections involving influenza viruses. ATRIVA is pursuing a new and innovative concept that offers significant potential for clinical, regulatory and commercial success. Instead of targeting the virus itself, the strategy at ATRIVA is to focus on cellular factors that are essential for the virus to multiply. This approach represents a paradigm shift in anti-viral therapies and has numerous advantages compared to standard treatment using licensed drugs. ATRIVA is a spin-off company of the universities of Giessen, Münster and Tübingen, is based in Tübingen and was established in April 2015.

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