Researcher-founded pharmaceutical company listed on the stock market

A company founded by University of Helsinki researchers seeks funding for patient testing through a corporate merger and listing on the stock market.

Hermo Pharma, a pharmaceutical company founded by University of Helsinki researchers, has merged with another Finnish company, Laurantis Pharma. The new company, Herantis Pharma, is applying for listing on the First North market at the Helsinki Stock Exchange. Subscription of shares began on 14 May.

“The intention is to ensure our product development for the coming three years. By the end of that period, we hope to conclude a commercialisation agreement for at least one of the drugs in our pipeline,” explains Pekka Simula, CEO of Herantis Pharma.

Improving brains and lymphatic systems

Herantis Pharma researches and develops drugs for inflammatory and lymphatic diseases as well as illnesses affecting the central nervous system.It is currently working on medication for dry eye syndrome, Parkinson’s disease and lymphatic swelling caused by breast cancer treatments.

Herantis Pharma intends to begin clinical trials of its eye drops later this year.Next year, the drugs for Parkinson’s disease and lymphatic swelling will enter the next round of trials.

Herantis focuses on early-stage pharmaceutical development and prospective drugs deriving from scientific research.It intends to license the later stage of development to pharmaceutical companies in Finland or abroad.

Strength from the research laboratory

The roots of Hermo Pharma are at the University of Helsinki, and the other party in the merger has also cooperated with the University. The company hopes its close cooperation with the familiar laboratories can continue in the future.

“One of our strengths is the strong scientific foundation of our product development,” Simula states.

University of Helsinki Funds owns a significant part of Herantis Pharma.

Bad timing

According to Henri Huttunen, a former research director at the company, the future of the work conducted at Hermo Pharma seems particularly bright if the successful merger and forthcoming listing are compared with the beginnings of the company.

There could hardly have been a worse time to start a company. The neuroscience researchers began to apply for funding for their company in early autumn of 2008 – just as the American investment bank Lehman Brothers collapsed, initiating a global financial crisis.

“Hermo Pharma very nearly did not happen. All the investors were suddenly overly cautious,” remembers Huttunen.

Digital game company created almost by accident

While working on treatment for lazy eye syndrome, Huttunen and partners wound up founding another company in an unexpected field. The process got started when Hermo Pharma was working on a form of treatment that would combine a drug enhancing brain plasticity and a video game intended as therapy.

During a successful round of clinical trials, the researchers discovered that the treatment was effective even when the pharmaceutical component was removed. The game was enough on its own. This is why they decided in February to found a new company, Opia Games, to continue the development of the game.

“Connecting the game industry with brain research is a field with future potential, and Finland has a great deal of unique know-how in that field,” Huttunen asserts.

Stopping the destruction

Of the purely pharmaceutical treatments being developed at Hermo Pharma, the one furthest along in its development process is the drug for Parkinson’s disease. Results from animal testing have been highly promising.

The treatment is based on the CDNF protein, discovered by University of Helsinki Professor Mart Saarma in the early 2000s, which seems to be able to halt the destruction of neurons caused by Parkinson’s disease.In addition to stopping the destruction, the hope is that the protein will be able to generate new neurons and repair those close to destruction.