Startup Iluminos Licenses Arizona-invented Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease

Wednesday, April 25, 2018
From left to right: Christopher Hulme, PhD, graduate assistant Chris Foley, and Travis Dunkley, PhD. Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona

From left to right: Christopher Hulme, PhD, graduate assistant Chris Foley, and Travis Dunkley, PhD. Photo: Paul Tumarkin/Tech Launch Arizona

Tucson, AZ – Iluminos Therapeutics has licensed compounds created at the University of Arizona that have the potential to treat neurodegenerative disease, in particular Alzheimer’s Disease. Lead inventor, Christopher Hulme, PhD, professor of medicinal chemistry in the UA Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and member of the BIO5 Institute (formerly at Eli Lilly and Amgen) developed the compounds with Arthur Shaw, post-doctoral research fellow at the time, and Travis Dunckley, PhD, assistant research professor at the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center and a UA alum. The compounds were designed and synthesized at the College of Pharmacy in collaboration with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGEN).

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, to patent the invention and license the technology to the startup company, Iluminos Therapeutics, recently founded by Drs. Hulme and Dunckley.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Alzheimer’s disease is the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease in the growing population of elderly people, currently affecting nearly 6 million Americans; and these patients and their doctors have no cure or treatment options that can slow the relentless progression of this devastating disease. Iluminos Therapeutics intends to focus its development efforts on Alzheimer’s disease. However, additional studies suggest high potential for possible utility as treatments for Down syndrome and diabetes.

By utilizing small molecules that help inhibit the DYRK1A kinase, Drs. Hulme and Dunckley and their collaborators have demonstrated that their unique compounds dramatically slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in animal models of the disease (Aging Cell, 2017, 16(5), 1146-1154).

“Iluminos Therapeutics will seek to expand upon the significant pre-clinical findings to advance our novel compound series to clinical trials in AD 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 AD,” according to Dr. Dunckley.

“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. “It is the culmination of a sustained seven-year effort.”

Dr. Dunckley agrees, noting that “this has been a revelatory experience in regard to the vital importance of highly skilled medicinal chemists in translational drug development efforts.”

- written by Ruwayd Dodin and Paul Tumarkin
Paul Tumarkin
Sr. Manager, Marketing & Communications