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Fraunhofer IZI and Immunic GmbH carry out joint research on new drugs for treating autoimmune diseases

Fraunhofer IZI. Since January 2017, researchers from Immunic GmbH have been working with scientists at the Department of Drug Design and Target Validation of the Fraunhofer IZI in Halle (Saale) on developing new drugs. The aim is the preclinical development of one or several active candidate ingredients for treating chronically inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

The human immune system is one of nature’s “silver bullets”. It recognizes and removes harmful pathogens and poisons and protects the body and organs. In the process, a highly complex system of cells, chemical neurotransmitters and receptors organizes the distinction between “good and evil”. In the case of autoimmune diseases, this interaction is disrupted. The immune system interprets the body’s own structures as dangers or hazards and triggers inflammatory processes. The RORγt receptor (retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor gamma) plays a central role in developing such misdirected inflammations. If this receptor is blocked, this chokes off the production of important pro-inflammatory chemical neurotransmitters.

The company Immunic GmbH ( has a series of compounds that can selectively block the RORγt receptor. Their therapeutic potential is now to be characterized in greater detail as part of a cooperative project with the Fraunhofer Institute. In this project, various experiments will establish whether there are any potential active ingredients among the compounds that demonstrate a corresponding effectiveness, stability and safety. The Halle-based researchers will contribute their expertise in developing small-molecule drugs. Initially, a suitable and optimized production process is to be developed for compounds so that these can be produced in constant quality and used for biological investigations. Cell and animal models will then be used to investigate effectiveness and the risk of side-effects.

As an initial indication, the researchers will look at psoriasis. This autoimmune disease, commonly known as shingles, leads to inflammations of the skin, sometimes including the joints, ligaments, blood vessels and the heart as well. It can also lead to diabetes and strokes. “Within the next two years, our objective is to check one or several active candidate ingredients as far as possible so that their effectiveness in patients can then be investigated in clinical studies,” said Dr. Mirko Buchholz, project manager at the Fraunhofer IZI, summing up the project.

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