Interview with Zyneyro’s CEO Peter Horn Møller

20 years of research have led to a potentially groundbreaking pain treatment

"Our data show that we can eliminate the pain and restore normal sensitivity without the usual side effects and without creating addiction."

Zyneyro was founded by a group of researchers from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Copenhagen and a group of entrepreneurs who together have extensive experience in all aspects of early drug discovery, development, and entrepreneurship. The company’s researchers have worked to understand the ability of the brain and nervous system to adapt to the influence of the surrounding environment. Zyneyro’s goal is to translate this knowledge of modulation of neuronal interaction into developing a number of drug candidates. Ingeneious contacted Zyneyro’s CEO Peter Horn Møller for an interview about the pain program and the company’s collaboration with CombiGene.

How did you discover the biological mechanism of action that forms the basis for 

the pain program?

“The word discovery gives you an idea of a eureka moment, where the insight hits from one moment to the next. In reality, “the discovery” was a process for almost 20 years, in which professor Ulrik Gether, associate professor Kenneth Madsen and associate professor Andreas Toft Sørensen focused on developing the right substance that allows us to block a certain protein (PICK1) involved in the development of chronic pain, including so-called neuro-pathic pain, which is seen after spinal cord injuries, amputations (phantom pain) and surgeries. In the process, they tested many strategies and we occasionally ended up in dead ends, and the fact that the three researchers have come up with two strategies with great therapeutic potential we regard as the sum of these experiences. I specifically remember when the three researchers told me about the moment they received a call from our partner Christian Bjerggaard Vægter in Aarhus, who was the first to test the drug candidate in a pain model in mice. Christian didn’t have time to say his name, he just asked what on earth we had concocted, because it completely alleviated the pain symptoms in his mouse model. From that moment on, it was clear that we had made a groundbreaking discovery. Since then, we have spent nearly five years further developing and qualifying the drug candidates to the current stage, where they are ready for a focused drug development process.”

Why is this field of research so interesting?

“Chronic pain affects countless people in a completely inhumane way. Unfortunately, chronic pain is very difficult to treat with existing drugs. Often you have to resort to opioids (morphine and morphine-like drugs) that are highly addictive and require higher and higher doses. This has led to the so-called opioid crisis in the United States, where there has been a dramatic increase in opioid abuse and related deaths. There is thus a basic need for better painkillers.”

What makes the concept unique?

“Several things. First, our scientific team is the group in the world that knows most about the biological target that is at the heart of our concept, PICK1. We have been working on PICK1 and PICK1’s role in pain for the past 20 years at the University of Copenhagen. Among other things, we have found that PICK1 regulates a special receptor that is of central importance for the development of chronic pain. Unfortunately, you cannot block this receptor directly due to life-threatening side effects. However, PICK1 is required to move this receptor to the surface of patients’ nerve cells and our approach is to block PICK1, thereby ensuring that the receptor does not come to the surface of the cell at all. This is a unique principle and has been shown to be exceptionally effective in relieving chronic pain in our animal models. Our data show that we can eliminate the pain and restore normal sensitivity without the usual side effects and without creating addiction. This is actually groundbreaking in itself. At the same time, we have developed a therapeutic variant, which can be given as gene therapy, where the body itself produces the drug. This means that you ultimately only need one treatment to potentially achieve lifelong pain relief. All in all, this will be life-changing for the many millions of pain patients who today for which there is no effective treatment available.”

Why did you choose CombiGene as your partner?

“One of the inventors behind the technology, Andreas Toft Sørensen, had a number of academic research projects in collaboration with CombiGene that were not about pain, and one day Andreas asked me if we should arrange a meeting with CombiGene. The atmosphere and dialogue at the first meeting were exceptionally open and constructive and just a few weeks after the first video meeting (during the COVID-19 misery) we started discussing a potential collaboration – and then negotiations began on the form of this cooperation.”

“At that time, we had a number of dialogues with other industry partners and investors, but we quickly came to the conclusion that we in CombiGene had met the optimal partner for this project. CombiGene and Zyneyro share the same basic approach to partnerships, and we are pleased that the collaboration with CombiGene is based on values such as trust, mutual respect, and focused work. In addition, CombiGene has a highly experienced drug development team that builds on and complements Zyneryo’s very strong competencies in the early drug development phase.”

“In collaboration with CombiGene, Zyneyro will have unique access to potential partners within Big Pharma with the resources and expertise to take the drugs to patients – in addition to the partners Zyneyro has been in contact with.”

How do you view the future?

“We have an exciting journey ahead of us before we have drug candidates ready for clinical trials in humans. Together, we have a well-composed team with the ability to reach the goal as quickly as possible – it is very motivating. The fact that we have already created a good climate of cooperation between Zyneyro and CombiGene means that it will be a fun and inspiring journey – this is also important to us.”

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