Grant will advance VNA-318 for Parkinson’s, age-related diseases

Vandria to use $2.8M award to move therapy into clinical trials by June

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by Andrea Lobo |

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Two people, one wearing a lab coat, are seen holding either end of a giant check amid balloons and confetti.

The Swiss company Vandria has been awarded a multimillion-dollar research grant to help advance the development of VNA-318, its therapy candidate for age-related neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease.

Totaling 2.5 million Swiss francs (about $2.8 million), the grant is funded by the Swiss Innovation Agency Innosuisse, which provides financial support to startups for science projects with substantial innovation potential.

It will be paired with 4.6 million Swiss francs from the company; together, the funds should help move the drug candidate to clinical trials. Indeed, Vandria expects to launch its first trial in the second quarter of the year, or between April and June, the company said in a press release.

The award follows an earlier Innosuisse research grant from two years ago, which resulted in the generation of positive VNA-318 preclinical data. According to Vandria, its drug candidate “has the potential to treat cognitive impairment, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” and ease the symptoms of these often age-related diseases.

“Our first Innosuisse grant provided financing in addition to valuable ongoing coaching support during the company’s early stages, and we are grateful for this second more substantial grant as we approach our transition into a clinical stage company,” said Klaus Dugi, MD, Vandria’s CEO.

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VNA-318, a brain-penetrant molecule, will target mitochondrial processes

Parkinson’s disease is caused by the progressive loss of dopaminergic neurons, nerve cells responsible for producing dopamine. That signaling molecule is used by nerve cells to control voluntary movements, and its loss causes the hallmark motor symptoms of the disease.

Mitochondria, known as the energy production centers in cells, provide most of the energy that cells need to function.

While the mechanisms remain incompletely understood, damage to the mitochondria and problems with clearing these organelles are thought to drive the loss of dopaminergic nerve cells. Abnormal function of these structures also is observed in several age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s, dementia, and cognitive impairment.

VNA-318 is a small, brain-penetrant molecule that induces mitophagy, a selective process in which damaged mitochondria are eliminated and recycled to maintain proper mitochondrial function.

Mitophagy also helps to rejuvenate cells by triggering the production of new mitochondria to replace the faulty ones, overall improving the cell’s mitochondrial function and ability to generate energy, the company states on its website.

In parallel, the company is advancing the development of another mitophagy lead candidate, VNA-052, for muscle diseases. This clinical program also was awarded a research grant, totaling €1.1 million (about $1.2 million) from Eurostars, a program to support innovative small and medium-sized enterprises with strong research and development activities. That program is co-funded by the European Union.

“These prestigious grant awards are an endorsement of the science and the team behind Vandria,” Dugi said.

“The Eurostars grant significantly helps us to advance, in parallel, our program in muscle disease,” Dugi added.