Asha Therapeutics selected to join Blue Knight for public health

Company's PRISM platform aiming for novel treatment for Parkinson's

Patricia Inácio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Inácio, PhD |

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Asha Therapeutics has been selected as a Blue Knight company, joining a public-private initiative that focuses on speeding new technology and science to help quickly and effectively deal with emerging dangers to public health and safety.

The biopharmaceutical company’s selection was prompted by its proprietary therapeutic design platform, known as PRISM, which promises to accelerate the development of candidate therapies for disorders, like Parkinson’s disease, with unmet need.

“The selection of Asha Therapeutics as a Blue Knight awardee highlights the power of its proprietary PRISM platform to dramatically accelerate drug development for previously intractable targets, largely considered undruggable,” Craig Blackstone, MD, PhD, a member of Asha’s board of directors and chair of Asha Therapeutics’ Scientific Advisory Board, said in a company press release.

Blue Knight is a joint venture between Johnson & Johnson Innovation-JLABS and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), which is part of the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Asha is honored to be selected as a Blue Knight company,” said Bradlee Heckmann, PhD, Asha’s scientific co-founder and chief scientific officer, adding, “We are excited to leverage the capabilities of Asha’s PRISM technology to enable a rapid response to risks to public health and safety in partnership with Johnson & Johnson Innovation-JLABS and BARDA.”

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ASHA-091 for Parkinson’s is a lead program for Asha Therapeutics  

Asha Therapeutics is developing ASHA-091, a highly specific inhibitor of DRP1 activation. That protein is involved in the fragmentation of mitochondria, which serve as the powerhouses of cells. The impaired function of these small organelles has been implicated in neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s.

Restoring mitochondrial function could provide a way to normalize neuronal health and help lessen Parkinson’s symptoms.

The compound, which is being developed for Parkinson’s among other indications, is expected to enter clinical trials next year. According to Asha, acute treatment of a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease with ASHA-091 showed signs of safety and efficacy by leading to a marked reversal of motor impairments.

The company’s pipeline was designed with its proprietary PRISM molecular technology platform — which, Asha says on its website, puts it “at the forefront of a new era of precision drug design.”

Traditional therapeutic discovery approaches commonly use technology to screen for millions of compounds to assess their potential efficacy against a certain disease. This approach, while often effective for unveiling potential targets, can take years — and even then, the identified targets will need further testing.

PRISM technology is a novel physics-based therapeutic design platform that employs proprietary software and advanced simulation programs to design optimal compounds for specific disease targets. The company says the platform’s optimal chemistry design and prediction of therapeutic-like properties can generate clinic-ready therapies within months instead of the years needed with traditional approaches.

Asha has proven ability to build a portfolio of assets with disease indications including  ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis], Parkinson’s disease [and other disorders] in a matter of months.

“PRISM’s demonstrated ability to successfully drug almost any target of interest is what has impressed me the most,” Blackstone said.

“Asha has proven ability to build a portfolio of assets with disease indications including  ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis], Parkinson’s disease [and other disorders] in a matter of months, demonstrating compelling efficacy and safety in animal models,” Blackstone said, adding, “I am thrilled with this recognition and look forward to patients benefiting from Asha’s portfolio of assets in the very near future.”

Heckmann said the company’s mission is to “develop curative medicines for diseases with high unmet medical need, enabling greater health equity and access and improvements in global health.”

“Asha is at the forefront of a new era of swift and purposeful precision drug design that will replace traditional lengthy and often serendipitous discovery,” Heckmann said.