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A Cure from the Depths

Chemical warfare waged between marine organisms could save human lives. This is what the Pharmasea project hopes to achieve by fighting Alzheimer's disease using marine molecules.
Pharmasea partners—two SMEs and four academic research centers, including CNRS1—are definitely not starting from scratch. The project is led by the ManRos Therapeutics company,2 co-founded in 2007 by biologist Laurent Meijer, who works on protein phosphorylation at the Roscoff biology station,3 and chemist Hervé Galons, currently at Paris-V University.
Laurent Meijer's CNRS team has been studying the anti-tumor and anti-neurodegenerative properties of certain molecules secreted by marine invertebrates—sponges and ascidians—which may be synthesized to deter their predators. In humans, these molecules are capable of acting on protein kinases, essential regulators in many processes of cellular life and death. This research has led to the discovery of Roscovitine, a molecule now patented by CNRS and undergoing phase II clinical trials against lung and nasopharyngal cancers, as well as against glaucoma—an ocular illness that can cause blindness.

axinella sponge

© Y. Fontana/CNRS Photothčque

The Axinella sponge, off the coast of Brittany, is a potential source of bioactive molecules.

ManRos Therapeutics intends to overcome, with “speed and flexibility,” as Meijer puts it, all administrative and financial obstacles that plague pharmaceutical research. For the moment, ManRos Therapeutics is testing four families of marine molecules at the preclinical stage against Alzheimer's disease but also against cancers, leukemias, and polycystic kidney disease. Human trials will follow as soon as possible.
The company has eight employees, all biologists and chemists. ManRos, the name of which is a contraction of Manhattan and Roscoff, hopes to develop on both sides of the Atlantic, and has already found numerous investors in the US. Its many awards and constant media attention (it was recently included in a French financial magazine's top 100 “most promising” start-ups in France4) should make it easier to find funding, especially for ambitious projects like Pharmasea.

Mathieu Hautemulle

Notes :

1. ManRos Therapeutics, C.RIS Pharma, CNRS, CEA, and Rennes-I and Paris-V Universities.
3. Laboratoire Phosphorylation de protéines et pathologies humaines (CNRS research and service unit).
4. Capital, August 2009.

Contacts :

Laurent Meijer,
SBR, Roscoff.


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