ERC Proof of Concept funding to Associate Professor Merja Voutilainen and REGENERA MS

ERC Proof of Concept grant is 150 000 € for 18 months. It is meant for bridging the gap between the results of their pioneering research and the early phases of its commercialisation.

Associate Professor Merja Voutilainen in the Faculty of Pharmacy has been granted ERC Proof of Concept funding for the REGENERA MS project. REGENERA MS will assess the technical and commercial feasibility of a novel MANF peptide variant as a superior treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS).

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory, autoimmune, and neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system affecting almost 3 million people worldwide. It involves demyelination and brain cell loss that occurs due to attacks by body’s own immune system. A hallmark of MS is the impaired ability of the CNS to repair itself after attacks, due to a decrease in numbers of oligodendrocytes, the cells in charge of producing myelin. Current treatments for MS are not able to boost regeneration and remyelination within the CNS, and thus there is an unmet medical need for the development of myelin repair promoting therapies for MS.

Associate Professor Voutilainen has discovered a novel MANF peptide variant which is neuroprotective and restorative, is transported to the brain after peripheral injection, and can be subcutaneously administered. Based on highly promising results by PhD candidate Tapani Koppinen from Voutilainen group, MANF variant treatment reduced clinical symptoms in animal models of MS and improved remyelination both in MS animals and in brain organotypic cultures.

"Within REGENERA MS, we will assess whether MANF variant is feasible as a novel therapy option for MS. Firstly, we will study further the therapeutic efficacy of MANF variant in cell and animal models of MS. Subsequently, commercial feasibility will be determined by verifying IP position and strategy, performing in-depth market and competitor analyses, and finally consolidating these into a business case to establish the best path to commercialisation," Merja Voutilainen says.

Successful commercialisation of MANF variant could reduce the profound socioeconomic burden of MS, provide an early-therapy option to delay disease progression and thus extend and improve the patients’ lives, and provide the pharmaceutical industry with a novel therapeutic that can potentially be used for other neurodegenerative diseases. 

ERC press release 18 January 2023

To be eligible for the Proof of Concept grant scheme, researchers need to already have been awarded an ERC frontier research grant. The PoC funding is used to develop findings they have made during former or current research projects. The main goal is to explore the commercial and social innovation potential of ERC-funded research. As with other ERC grants, the funding supports research projects in all scientific disciplines, from physical science and engineering to life sciences, and social sciences to humanities.