Left to right: Christopher Hulme, graduate assistant Chris Foley, and Travis Dunkley. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)
Left to right: Christopher Hulme, graduate assistant Chris Foley, and Travis Dunkley. (Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona)

Startup Iluminos Licenses UA-Invented Treatment for Alzheimer's

An Arizona startup is hoping its unique compounds will lead to treatments to halt or slow the progression of a devastating neurodegenerative disease that affects nearly 6 million Americans.
April 25, 2018

Iluminos Therapeutics has licensed compounds created at the University of Arizona that have the potential to treat neurodegenerative disease, in particular Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease in a growing population of elderly people. It currently affects nearly 6 million Americans who have no cure or treatment options to slow the relentless progression of the devastating disease. Iluminos Therapeutics intends to focus its development efforts on Alzheimer’s disease; however, additional studies suggest a high potential for possible utility as treatments for Down syndrome and diabetes.

Lead inventor Christopher Hulme, professor of medicinal chemistry in the UA Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and member of the BIO5 Institute, developed the compounds with Arthur Shaw, a post-doctoral research fellow at the time, and UA alumnus Travis Dunckley, assistant research professor at the Arizona State University-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center. The compounds were designed and synthesized at the UA College of Pharmacy in collaboration with the Translational Genomics Research Institute.

To bring the potential drug candidates a step closer to real-world impact for patients, the team worked with Tech Launch Arizona, the office of the UA that commercializes inventions stemming from academic research. TLA helped patent the invention and license the technology to Iluminos Therapeutics, the startup company founded by Hulme and Dunckley.

By utilizing small molecules that help inhibit the DYRK1a kinase, the researchers demonstrated that their unique compounds dramatically slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in animal models of the disease. Their paper, "DYRK1 inhibition improves Alzheimer's disease-like pathology," was published in Aging Cell on Aug. 4, 2017.

"Iluminos Therapeutics will seek to expand upon the significant pre-clinical findings to advance our novel compound series to clinical trials in Alzheimer’s disease patients, with the goal of halting or slowing the progression of the disease. Achieving this goal would be a significant step forward in treatment options for patients with Alzheimer’s disease," Dunckley said.

"Alzheimer's is a devastating disease, but we're hopeful that discoveries such as these small molecules will lead to treatments that will improve and save lives," said Rakhi Gibbons, associate director for biomedical and life sciences licensing at TLA.

"This is an excellent example of scientists working within a strong team-oriented and milestone-driven paradigm across institutions to address big problems," said Hulme, who worked at Eli Lilly and Amgen before joining the UA. "It is the culmination of a sustained seven-year effort."

Dunckley agreed, and noted, "This has been a revelatory experience in regard to the vital importance of highly skilled medicinal chemists in translational drug development efforts."