Uncovering the science of the AhR receptor

Immunahr, founded by Lars Pettersson, medicinal chemist with 30 years of experience from the pharmaceutical industry, aims to understand more about the science behind the AhR receptor and its role in immunology and autoimmune diseases, and use it to create new therapeutics

The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) plays a role in detecting, breaking down and eliminating toxic compounds. Perhaps more important to healthcare, it is important in both immunological responses and in inhibiting inflammation. Active Biotech and Teva Pharmaceutical's once-daily oral AhR activator laquinimod is in development for the treatment of Huntingdon's disease.

The foundation of Immunahr
Immunahr was founded around the hypothesis that an active metabolite of laquinimod was actually what activated the AhR receptor. Lars Pettersson, Immuahr's founder, first tested the metabolite and laquinimod in vitro and found potent AhR activity for the metabolite, however not for laquinimod. Then in vivo activity was demonstrated for the metabolite. Following a patent battle, the court found in Pettersson's favour and Immunahr is continuing development.
"We have seen activity in vivo in inflammatory bowel disease, in colitis, and in multiple sclerosis," said Pettersson. "We also are collaborating with a Dutch academic group in psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, and in vivo studies are being planned."
GlaxoSmithKline is developing an AhR activator, tapinarof, as a topical treatment for atopic dermatitis and psoriasis, and Phase 2/3 data is expected in 2019.
"Other companies developing drugs targeting AhR validate our approach," said Pettersson.

Seeking partners
Immunahr is seeking funding. The company is also working with academic partners to develop the science behind the approach and publish scientific papers to support the concept and make it more widely known.
"The next step will be to collaborate with an academic dermatology research group so that we can develop more robust data," said Lars Pettersson, Immunahr founder. "Once we have this data, we can start to look for biotech or pharma companies for partnering or licensing deals, or to buy out the company in a trade sale."

Future steps
Pettersson is planning chemistry for new compounds, and for optimised versions of the original lead, as the patent application for the lead product dates back to 2010.
Pettersson and Immunahr will have to face some challenges though – the AhR receptor is responsible for many of the adverse effects of the toxin dioxin.
"Our challenge is to persuade the industry that AhR is a good target. We believe that it has huge potential, but for some companies it is still tarred with the same brush as dioxin," said Pettersson.

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