People with schizophrenia may experience a variety of symptoms, including hallucinations, delusions, or being unable to feel pleasure. They may also have cognitive symptoms; for instance, they may struggle to pay attention or have problems with memory. Kynexis, a new Dutch start-up, is developing a drug that they hope will be able to treat cognitive impairment associated with schizophrenia (CIAS), a condition for which no drugs have been approved.
“It’s a large population. Patients are devastated,” says Kees Been, Kynexis CEO and a former Biogen exec. “They live, but they don’t have lives.”
The start-up launched Nov. 7 with €57 million ($61 million) in series A financing led by Forbion, and aims to develop precision medicines for brain diseases. Kynexis is leading off with a small molecule inhibitor called KYN-5356, which interferes with the production of a molecule called kynurenic acid (KYNA). Research suggests that raised KYNA levels are associated with cognitive impairment in schizophrenia.
The production of KYNA in the body starts with the amino acid tryptophan, which is degraded into kynurenine. Several enzymes can then help turn kynurenine into KYNA; kynurenine aminotransferase II (KAT-II) is the main enzyme responsible for that change in the human brain. Kynexis’s drug aims to treat CIAS by blocking KAT-II from catalyzing that transformation.
Been says KYN-5356, which Kynexis licensed from Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma, is “clinic ready,” and the company expects to administer it to the first volunteers early next year. Kynexis isn’t the only contender in the schizophrenia drug space. Karuna Therapeutics, a company developing drugs for psychiatric and neurological conditions, recently submitted a new drug application to the US Food and Drug Administration for its therapy to treat schizophrenia. If approved, it would be the first schizophrenia medicine with a new mechanism of action in decades.