A new biotech firmed has joined the fight against some of the most debilitating diseases afflicting millions. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are being targeted for new treatments by Yumanity. For now, the company’s footprint is small, though its pedigree is massive.

With five employees, the company was started by Tony Coles. If you’re trying to place the name, he’s the chief executive that sold Onyx Pharmaceuticals to Amgen for $10.4 billion. It’s safe to say the company isn’t hurting for startup capital.

Yeast Aiding Drug Development

Based in Cambridge, MA, the firm’s research staff will study yeast for possible treatments. The techniques were developed by Susan Lindquist, former director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Three scientists from the lab will serve as founding members of Yumanity. Tony Coles is hoping to rapidly scale the company to 25 employees, up from the initial 5.

Coles commented on the challenge facing the company.

“I love a big problem and a good challenge and I think that this challenge is sized about right,” Coles says. “We’ve got 50 million people around the world suffering from these diseases, $650 billion in economic costs, and lots of families like mine that have been affected.”

The technologies to be used at Yumanity were developed at the Lindquist lab. Proteins played a vital role in the research, showing they become mis-folded in the neurodegenerative diseases.

When the mis-folded proteins are put into yeast cells, they die. Yumanity’s biotech research will focus on novel treatments to keep the yeast cells alive. From there, the drug compounds get placed in human neurons derived from stem cells.

The back and forth between yeast and human cells continues until the drug shows its efficacy. A yeast-human back and forth has been developed via a trio of published research in the journal Science. Read one, two and three here.

Yumanity Funding

Money is what keeps the research lights burning. For now, the company is bootstrapped with part of the $57 million Coles received in the Amgen transaction. Most observers believe that a fresh round of outside funding will be closed on in the new year. Additional cash on hand will help Yumanity scale its research arm up.

As for new treatments? Right now, the company isn’t close to human trials on any of the new ideas. One Parkinson’s treatment is showing promise, entering animal trials. According to the company, the potential for the drug compound is big.

Using yeast cells enables the company to change the way drugs are developed, and it helps research labs discover new treatments.

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