Significant Horizon 2020 funding for clinical study of the neurotrophic factor CDNF

The European Union’s research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 has awarded a grant of approximately €6 million to the TreatER EU project. The project's implementation phase is being coordinated by Professor Mart Saarma's research group at the University of Helsinki's Institute of Biotechnology. The project involves phase ½ clinical trials of the innovative CDNF drug candidate patented by Herantis Pharma Plc. for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

– The launch of clinical trials is a great moment for a researcher. I’m very optimistic, since the symptoms of Parkinson’s have been successfully treated with CDNF in several disease models, states Professor Mart Saarma from the Institute of Biotechnology.

Professor Saarma’s research originally led to the discovery of CDNF, and continues to explore its potential in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

– This is a wonderful accomplishment for the TreatER consortium and an amazing prize for our team for their years of hard work, says Pekka Simula, CEO of Herantis.


– Horizon 2020 funding is highly competitive, and receiving this grant requires a strong European consortium, top science and the biggest potential to improve existing treatments. Cooperation in the TreatER consortium has already been uniquely focused on a common goal: a breakthrough in the treatment of Parkinson's disease, explains Simula.

Herantis Pharma Plc was the coordinator for the planning stage of the clinical trials, and the project consortium has agreed that the implementation of the trials will be coordinated by Professor Saarma’s research group at the Institute of Biotechnology. The project funding is primarily focused on the clinical trials.

– This is a perfect example of the high esteem enjoyed by Finnish competence in medicine. Finland is in an excellent position to succeed on the global market of health technologies, if the development is given a reasonable amount of support. This Finn-driven EU consortium is launching a globally unique clinical trial in Finland and Sweden, using a drug candidate which has been discovered, patented, developed and manufactured in Finland, Simula emphasises.

What is CDNF and what is its significance?

CDNF, or Cerebral Dopamine Neurotrophic Factor, is a growth factor expressed in the endoplasmic reticulum, which protects and sustains neurons. The discovery of CDNF was based on the research led by Professor Saarma at the University of Helsinki's Institute of Biotechnology.

Herantis has acquired an international patent for CDNF. CDNF was found to be effective in many Parkinson’s disease models in the pre-clinical trials. Herantis is currently preparing the first clinical trials of CDNF for treatment of Parkinson's disease and is conducting pre-clinical cooperation with the University of Helsinki to develop a new Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) drug.

In pre-clinical trials, including long-term toxicological studies, CDNF has been found to be both safe and effective in protecting the dopamine-producing neurons in the midbrain and restoring function to disabled nerve cells. It has also been found to have positive effects on the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's.

In the ALS disease model, CDNF has significantly extended the lifespan of mice and alleviated the symptoms. Based on these studies, CDNF may be able to treat several different illnesses or their symptoms, where no efficient treatements, that can slow down or stop the disease progression, exist.

The University of Helsinki's Institute of Biotechnology and Herantis Pharma Plc are members of the TreatER consortium, along with three university hospitals in charge of patient care (Lund University Hospital, Karolinska University Hospital, Helsinki University Hospital), the pharmaceutical companies Orion Pharma and Lundbeck, which have extensive experience with Parkinson’s disease, the Karolinska Institutet as a leading expert of PET imaging in Parkinson’s disease, the University of Oxford, Renishaw Plc as well as the European Parkinson’s Disease Association EPDA.




  • Parkinson’s disease is a slowly progressing, incurable neurodegenerative disease which is caused by the destruction of the dopamine-producing nerve cells in the midbrain.

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a disease of the motor neurons in the spinal cord, in which the nerve cells that control muscles are gradually destroyed, leading to the atrophy of voluntary muscles.