12.11. 2014 Kuukauden kasvo

Adrian Harel founded his new biotechnology company in Turku

Israeli neurobiologist Adrian Harel founded in Turku a company called Medicortex Finland which develops drugs for reducing the impacts of traumatic brain injury and diagnostics for determining the extent of injury. The goal is to anticipate and prevent the proceeding of the injury and its development into a disease, such as Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy. No such drug exists at the moment, so it has generated considerable interest.

Doctor Adrian Harel knew what he needed and was ready to make a quick decision to move to Turku after he found out that the city provides excellent conditions for new biotechnology companies.

”The three most important reasons were: high standard of science, high level of support for starting a business, and Tekes’ support system which is unique in the whole world. I got my hands on Turku Science Park’s brochure at a biotechnology networking event in Italy in March and visited Finland already in April. The company was founded in July, and I moved here in August”, Dr Harel says.

He is happy with the early days of Medicortex, because Turku Science Park’s Bio Incubator provides the company with a laboratory and other necessary premises. The company has also received practical help e.g. in hiring staff and looking for partners and investors.

International serial entrepreneur

Dr Harel knows what he’s doing, as he has previously set up biotechnology companies in a number of countries, acquired funding for them, made them work, and then moved on to the next one. The companies are still in operation and some of them are quoted on the stock exchange. The newest of them is the American listed company BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics which specialises in stem cell therapies for highly debilitating neurodegenerative diseases.

Medicortex is a special case, however, because Dr Harel has put his own money in it. He will personally participate in the product development. The company already has two patents in the USA, and a patent is pending in Finland, too.

”I have firm belief in this. We intend to develop drugs for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries. Such drug does not exist, although the injuries are very common. The problem is that an impact to the head destroys the brain tissue around it gradually for a long time after the accident, and injury caused by the increased permeability of the neuronal membrane progresses in the brain. Disturbance of the cell membrane results in the accrual of adverse substance in the cell, and the degradation of proteins increases. The consequence is damage at molecular level which will lead to expanding cell death if untreated. That development should be stopped”, Dr Harel explains.

Recent studies have shown that repeated impacts to the head increase the risk of dementia in older age, and they also predispose to other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease or epilepsy. Medicortex’s solution is to develop a drug that diversely affects several factors of the chain reaction, not just one, as previous research has unsuccessfully attempted to do. The treatment that protects nerve cells aims at multi-functional pharmacological effects, such as neutralising the toxic metal ions and free radicals in the brain.

Goal to create a drug and diagnostic method

The most common cause of brain trauma is traffic accidents, and other high-risk situations include falling, tripping, violence and different sports. It is estimated that some 35,000 accidents that predispose to brain injury occur annually in Finland alone, and as a result more than 1,150 people die and 10,000 are injured permanently, some of them disabled from working. It is estimated that in the United States and Europe as many as 2.5 million people get permanent brain injury from accidents, and 1.5 million accidents lead to death.

In addition to a drug, Medicortex intends to develop a diagnostic method based on biomarkers for analysing the extent of the brain injury. Both products will benefit accident victims as well as other brain damage patients, so Dr Harel can see large markets for the products. Some 9.6 million strokes occur annually in Europe alone, and their treatment costs exceed 64 billion euro.

”The premises and brochures are ready, and we have already arranged a few introductory events, and the first subcontractor round is under way. We have also agreed on co-operation with the Scientific Advisory Board which comprises three Finnish top experts in brain damage and neurology. The Tekes grant is enough for starting the operations, but we will need more investors for the actual product development which is due to commence in January. We will not do everything by ourselves, though, but will speed up the process by using a broad network”, Dr Harel says.

He estimates that the basic research on the diagnostic method will have been completed within around two years, and the next step will be licensing. In drug development the same phase will be reached in 3–4 years.

Long days and Finnish studies

Adrian Harel works 12-hour days and spends the evenings mostly at professional literature, but he has also had a look around his new hometown.

”I live near the city-centre and love to walk on the riverbank. I also like the cityscape which is a combination of old and new. I have started Finnish studies in an adult education group, but it’s very difficult for me. Once I learn the language, I can go to theatre and get acquainted with culture”, he plans.

Text and photos: Anne Kortela

Adrian Harel

• Born in 1957 in Romania, has lived in Israel since 1961, moved to Turku in 2014
• Ph.D. in Neurobiology, MBA
• Founder, owner and CEO of Medicortex Oy that started in Turku Science Park’s Bio Incubator in 2014
• Has designed 12 chemically-verified compounds, three of which are verified new pharmacological substances

Work in biotechnology companies:

2011-2013        BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics, CEO (listed company, OTC: BCLI, USA)
2009-2010        Da-ta Biotech Ltd, shareholder (Israel)
2008-2010        Meditor Pharmaceuticals and Amonolab Technologies 2000-, CEO (listed company, USA, Israel)
2004-2008        Sepal Pharma, Chief Operating Officer (Israel, France)
2003-2008        Molecular cytomics, Chief Operating Officer (Israel)
2002-2003        Heal-Or, CEO and co-founder (Israel)
2000-2002        Jerusalem Biotechnology Center, CEO (Israel)
1997-2000        Proneuron biotechnologies, CEO and Chief Operating Officer (Israel, USA)

Education:

1993 MBA, University of Haifa, Israel
1989-1990 Postdoctoral research fellow, Washington University School of Medicine and Searle, Monsanto’s subsidiary
1989 Ph.D. in Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel
1982 B.Sc., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, agricultural faculty, Rehovot, Israel

Professional memberships:

The Society for Neuroscience (SFN)
Israel Society for Neuroscience (IFSN)
The North American Brain Injury Society (NABIS)
Brain Injury Association of America
Brain Injury Association of Canada

Other:

• Lives in Turku, 3 adult children (studying in Israel)
• Hobbies: Rotary Club, reading
• Studies Finnish language

Medicortex Oy

• Develops pharmaceutical treatment and diagnostics for traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease and stroke, as well as identification of brain injury biomarkers.
• The company has a sister company registered in the United States
• Two patents in the USA
• Patent process pending in Finland
• The company’s Scientific Advisory Board members: Adjunct Professor Olli Tenovuo (Turku University Hospital), Professor Asla Pitkänen (University of Eastern Finland), and Professor Risto Roine (Turku University Hospital).
• Initial funding from Tekes, search for private investors in progress
• http://www.medicortex.fi