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Evotec, HSCI Ink ALS Deal

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Evotec today said that it has forged an alliance with the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to identify compounds that can prevent or slow down the loss of motor neurons, a characteristic of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The collaboration, dubbed CureMN, or CureMotorNeuron, will leverage Evotec's drug discovery infrastructure and expertise in identifying compounds with therapeutic value, as well as human motor neuron assays based on ALS patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells developed by HSCI principal faculty members Lee Rubin and Kevin Eggan.

Both Rubin and Eggan are professors in Harvard's Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. Eggan is also an early career scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

"Their laboratories have developed a large array of ALS patient-derived motor neuron models that allow screening of diseased human cells in culture — an approach that is sometimes referred to as a 'clinical trial in a dish,'" Cord Dohrmann, CSO of Evotec, said in a statement. "Our intention is to systematically screen for new mechanisms, targets, and compounds that have the potential to be developed into new products that will modify and ideally halt the progression of ALS and potentially other motor neuron diseases."

Today's announcement is the third collaboration between Evotec and HSCI scientists and the fourth with Harvard scientists, and it "significantly" expands the partnership model that joins Harvard research with Evotec's drug platform and expertise, the Hamburg-based company said.

Evotec also said that it reached a deal in principal with PatientsLikeMe covering methods of rapidly evaluating theories that can be tested on patients about progression or pathways that may be expressed in ALS patients.

Evotec did not provide financial and other details for either agreement.

"Phenotypic screens based on patient-derived iPS cells are an exciting approach to tackle diseases where tractable mechanisms have remained elusive," Vivian Berlin, director of business development in Harvard's Office of Technology Development, said in a statement. "Evotec's proven expertise in high-content screening and deep knowledge in the field of motor neurons is a perfect match for this project. In this latest collaborative effort with Evotec, we look forward to putting our combined dedication and knowledge to work identifying new therapeutics for motor neuron diseases."