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In April 2016, the team at InterAx Biotech AG mounted the nameplate of a newly-born company on the wall of PARK INNOVAARE’s deliveryLAB, thus giving their venture an official kickoff. InterAx is a spin-off of the ETH Zurich and the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), combining the output of protein-based IP-protected biosensors with the mathematical modelling of signaling pathways to identify safer and better drug candidates. On the one hand, the company facilitates drug discovery for difficult-to-handle drug targets; on the other, it will help improve the selection of lead molecules thanks to its ability to better predict drug safety and efficacy before costly and risky clinical trials. For the pharmaceutical industry, this equals savings of millions in the development of one drug.
Bringing new therapeutics onto the market is a long and risky process that requires huge investments. It involves various phases that are usually grouped into four stages: discovery, pre-clinical, clinical trials and marketing (or post-approval). Whether or not R&D programs succeed or flop depends very much on the quality of the compounds identified in the early stage drug discovery. With the goal to facilitate compound identification and selection for further development (before entering pre- and clinical trials) and to minimize the risk of failure, InterAx Biotech has developed protein-based IP-protected biosensors for the largest class of human receptors: the G-Protein Coupled Receptors (GPCRs). Moreover, the company uses mathematical and computational approaches to identify and better predict cellular response to a specific drug candidate, and thus the potential effect on human health.
Technology enabling the prediction of side effects and optimization of beneficial response
Based on the combined knowledge of InterAx’s CEO, biochemist Dr. Martin Ostermaier, and that of his colleague, CTO and computer scientist Dr. Aurélien Rizk, along with the industry experience of newly hired CSO Dr. Maria Waldhoer, the spin-off is currently developing a Biosensors Technology Platform that will not only make it possible to find out whether a tested compound is active, but also to analyze and predict GPCR signaling pathways for beneficial and adverse physiological effects. With this information, it will be possible to reduce the drug’s side effects and to optimize the beneficial cellular response.
Innovative technology in combination with a successful business idea
In the context where pharmaceutical companies are outsourcing more and more of their R&D activities to small and medium biotech companies, what started as a three-man venture is now taking the shape of a fast-growing biotech company. The InterAx team, technology and business model have received awards on multiple occasions: InterAx won the Venture Kick and the Swiss UpStart Challenge, was nominated for the Swiss Technology Award in the category “Inventors” and was among 10 venture leaders in Life Science that joined a business boosting week in Boston, the world’s leading biotech center. The trip allowed them to be exposed not only to an inspiring and enriching environment, but also to enlarge their network and actually meet their current investors. In fact, InterAx successfully closed its seed financing round with a team of Boston-based biotech investors before Christmas last year. Determined to grow further, InterAx recently got a new team member on board, Dr. Maria Waldhoer, previously Associate Professor for GPCR signaling and pharmacology at the Medical University of Graz. For the past six years Dr. Waldhoer has been gaining extensive industry experience working at Novo Nordisk in Denmark. In her new role as CSO (Chief Scientific Officer), Dr. Waldhoer will be part of the team with a leading role for all R&D activities, and she will also support Dr. Martin Ostermaier and Luca Zenone with the business development for the creation of new industry collaborations.
Beneficial environment as a key success factor
With its headquarters at PARK INNOVAARE, InterAx Biotech benefits from the direct proximity to the Paul Scherrer Institute. “The technology and know-how exchange is crucial for us”, says Luca Zenone, the company’s CFO. Being on the PSI’s campus allows the spin-off to collaborate locally with the Institute, in particular with the Biology and Chemistry department, and to better align the research supported by grants, such as the CTI project, with its internal R&D.