With its Parkinson’s treatment, TreeFrog Therapeutics shows cell therapy is no longer science fiction

It is certainly the revelation of the year 2021. While celebrating its three years of existence at the end of the year, the start-up from Pessac (Gironde)
TreeFrog Therapeutics will be at the heart of the discussions on Tuesday for the eighth edition
by Innovaday. Organized by the start-up incubator
Bordeaux Unitec, the event will indeed look back on the most resounding business successes of the year.

Incubated by Bordeaux Unitec and supported by the University of Bordeaux, TreeFrog Therapeutics, created in November 2018, is now the largest biotechnology start-up in New Aquitaine. In three years, it has grown from five to seventy employees, and at the start of the last school year, it had the most successful fundraising of the year in the region, with 64 million euros.

Kévin Alessandri, physicist, is one of the three co-founders of TreeFrog. He is preparing to leave for Boston, to set up a branch of the Gironde start-up, which now needs international visibility to continue to develop. “With the Covid,” he analyzes, “there has been a change in perception of advances in health, and there has been funding this year at levels that we had never reached before. here in the field of cell therapy. “

Complexity of mass production

Cell therapy consists of using stem cells to reproduce cells and transplant them into the body in order to restore the function of a tissue or organ. It is not new, “the first cell therapy that everyone is familiar with is blood transfusion”, reminds Kévin Alessandri. “But we know how to do increasingly complex things, for example in the case of Parkinson’s where neurons die. Although advances in the field are being made with varying degrees of success, this therapy has also recently seen notable advances in the treatment of diabetes.

“We reintegrate living cells into the body to treat these diseases, so we no longer talk about drugs, pills or molecules,” continues Kévin Alessandri. Problem: the technology comes up against the complexity of the mass production, that is to say in the billions, and in quality, of these “cell-drugs”. “This is where we come in,” smiles the physicist. TreeFrog has indeed developed a technology, C-Stem, which allows cells to “encapsulate”, that is to say to protect them during their reproductive phase, at a time when they are extremely fragile.

Lower the costs

“We have developed a process to make shells the size of a hair around these living cells,” explains the co-founder of the start-up. For this, we used existing technologies in the microfabrication of processors, which we transferred to biology. Once encapsulated, the cells are entered into a bioreactor where they are amplified, and then differentiated into the desired cell type. In four weeks, we go from ten cells to 5,000, then we differentiate them into neurons for Parkinson’s, and we obtain microtissus of neurons. It’s like the natural process. “

With this disruptive technology, the company plans to produce batches of several billion therapeutic cells at reduced cost and in a “microtisseau” format that facilitates engraftment. “Encapsulating the cells allows us to increase the yield by a factor of five or ten, which allows us to lower costs while increasing quality,” insists Kévin Alessandri. For hepatitis C, we had seen a product come out at 350,000 euros per patient, it is too high, we will not be at these levels to treat a Parkinson’s patient. “

“Neither magic, nor transhumanism”

For Parkinson’s disease, on which the start-up is working as a priority, TreeFrog hopes to carry out “the first clinical trials in 2024, in order to release a commercial product in 2028-2029. “Kévin Alessandri warns, however, that” cell therapy is neither magic nor transhumanism, it remains medicine. The goal, for now, is to slow the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms, which is already a real change for a disease that hasn’t seen much in a long time. You don’t fix a broken brain, but you help it to degenerate more slowly. “

With its production platform based in Pessac, which will continue to grow, TreeFrog now wants to create a French industrial cell therapy sector.. “When we talk about reindustrializing in France in the health sector, we are talking about this kind of technology,” continues Kévin Alessandri. This is where the majority of turnover will be in the next twenty years, within a pharmaceutical industry which is in the process of being completely renewed. If cell therapy isn’t magic, it’s no longer science fiction.

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