Three researchers from the Department of Biomedicine have founded their own company, Draupnir Bio, and set out to develop a new type of cholesterol-lowering medicine. With their knowledge of biochemistry, they could see that there was something the pharmaceutical industry had overlooked, and this opened for exciting opportunities.
Around ten years ago, researchers discovered that the level of the bad LDL cholesterol fell if a protein called PCSK9 – which is made by the liver and found in the blood – was inhibited. This became the pharmaceutical industry’s new hope within cholesterol-lowering medicine for the prevention of blood clots in the heart, and throughout the world the industry has since been busy developing PCSK9-inhibiting drugs. The first products have come to market during the last couple of years and are now an alternative to the world's most sold medication statins, which have the unfortunate side effect of getting the liver cells to produce more PCSK9 thus counteracting the statins own effect on the LDL cholesterol.
But already in 2010, the three researchers from Aarhus could see that there was something that did not fit here. Their basic scientific knowledge told them that PCSK9 had to play a wider role in relation to the condition of the blood vessels rather then just in relation to the LDL cholesterol. If they were correct, it would be possible to prevent blood clots in the heart more effectively by attacking PCSK9 with medicine in a different way. The first experiment was carried out by the researchers in their spare time, and a scholarship paved the way for further experiments.
"Our first results pointed in the right direction. We had the feeling that this could really end up being something big. When we applied for funding, we hardly dared write about it in funding applications because there were also representatives from the pharmaceutical companies among the assessors," says Simon Glerup, who is associate professor at the Department of Biomedicine.
The goal is to develop a pill that can prevent blood clots in the heart, and which is also priced so it is available to many people. By comparison, the current PCSK9-inhibitors are given as injections and cost almost DKK 30,000 a year per patient in Denmark.