Israeli women are shining as biotech entrepreneurs. A fine example of this is the new diagnostics company NeuroQuest, run by four women. Their mission is to detect neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s using a simple blood test.
Eti Yoles, the company’s co-founder and managing director, says the fact they turned out to be an all-women team is just a coincidence. Yoles was previously the VP of R&D at Proneuron, an Israeli company developing a treatment against spinal cord injury.
Based on the research of Prof. Michal Schwartz from the Weizmann Institute of Science (co-founder and scientific advisor at NeuroQuest), “The scientific basis of the company is a unique approach,” Yoles tells ISRAEL21c.
“We are characterizing the immune system and seeing changes over time,” she says.
Based on biomarkers, NeuroQuest’s early diagnostics tool could be ready in as early as four years, and could become an attractive tool for pharmaceutical developers. Working on drugs against Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, developers could determine quickly if their drug candidate may have an effect over time or not, and how it might work on people with early stage neurodegenerative diseases.
Market needs early diagnostic test
Currently there are no objective tests for early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) on the market. A patient is only diagnosed by clinical symptoms when they’ve reached an advanced stage of the disease.
Early diagnostic tools such as NeuroQuest’s could give doctors an opportunity to intervene with new therapies, and at the very least allow a patient to prepare for the future. Furthermore, an early diagnosis, says Yoles, could give drug developers the feedback they need for advancing the development of safer, more effective drugs.
And the need is pressing. In America alone, there are more than 500,000 people with Parkinson’s disease (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke 2004), while Alzheimer’s has been diagnosed in over 2.3 million people.
The burden on the healthcare system is significant — about $100 billion a year in the US, as is the trauma of such diseases on individuals and loved ones.
Accelerating drug development
NeuroQuest’s simple blood test is based on a decade of Prof. Schwartz’s research. She’s discovered that aspects of the immune system (necessary for staving off neurodegenerative diseases), are not working as they should, and eventually lead to disease.
The immune system leaves traces of its health in the form of biomarkers, which hold information about how the immune system is functioning. It is possible to detect such markers in the blood.
Having found a way to “read” what the immune system is saying, NeuroQuest plans to create a profile of the immune system to be used for diagnostic purposes, and for recommending the best possible therapy.
Until that happens, there will be a few milestones to pass, including clinical studies to validate selected biomarkers in Alzheimer’s patients. The first study is planned for this month.
Residing inside the Misgav Venture Accelerator, NeuroQuest also received seed money from Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist. Today the women are looking for an investor. They plan on raising $500,000 to pass over milestones quickly. “Hopefully a woman investor,” adds Esti Adan, the VP of business development.