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Univ. Spin-Off Developing Myelin Disease Treatments Unveiled

Neurons

(commonfund.nih.gov)

25 July 2018. A spin-off enterprise from Case Western Reserve University is developing therapies designed to restore the myelin sheath around nerve cells destroyed in multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders. Convelo Therapeutics Inc. in Cleveland, Ohio emerged from stealth mode as research papers by the company’s founders appeared in today’s issues of the journals Nature and Nature Methods (paid subscription required).

Convelo Therapeutics’ technology aims to stimulate stem cells from which myelin is formed. Myelin is the fatty, protective substance around nerve fibers, as well as nerve cells themselves. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system attacks the central nervous system and damages myelin. Scar tissue from the damaged myelin, known as sclerosis, distorts the nerve signals sent to and from the brain and spinal cord, causing symptoms ranging from mild numbness to loss of vision or paralysis. National Multiple Sclerosis Society estimates 2.3 million people worldwide are living with the disorder, while Convelo cites data showing as many as 1 million people in the U.S. are affected by the disorder.

The company licenses its technology from Case Western Reserve labs of geneticists Paul Tesar and Drew Adams, Convelo’s founders. Tesar and Adams discovered key roles played by stem cells in the development of oligodendrocytes that produce myelin. In healthy individuals, these precursor cells form new oligodendrocytes that maintain the protective myelin around nerve cells. Studies by Tesar and Adams identified a central pathway in the body that controls production of myelin and targets for therapies if that pathway is disrupted. The researchers also highlighted the role of specific steroid alcohols or sterols that contribute to the formation of oligodendrocytes in myelin production.

Tesar and Adams formed Convelo Therapeutics in 2016, operating largely under the radar until today. Co-founding the company were Derrick Rossi, a biotechnology entrepreneur, and pharma industry veteran Steven Landau. Rossi is Convelo’s president and CEO, while Landau is the company’s development director. Tesar and Adams have no executive roles in Convelo, but serve on the company’s board of directors. Earlier this year, Convelo raised $7.8 million led by Bill Sanford, the company’s board chair. Convelo is located at Bioenterprise, a Cleveland life science and health care business incubator.

“The discovery of agents that can restore myelin represents a new therapeutic paradigm for patients with neurodegenerative diseases characterized by loss of myelin,” says Rossi in a company statement. “Our thesis is that therapeutics that act directly within the central nervous system to stimulate myelin regeneration may be what is needed to stop or reverse the progressive nature of these types of diseases altogether.”

In addition to multiple sclerosis, Convelo plans to develop therapies for other conditions related to myelin damage. One of those diseases is leukodystrophy, a rare genetic disorder marked by myelin loss or dysfunction, usually affecting young children and with no treatment options. Myelin damage and loss is also found in some cases of trauma to the central nervous system, as a result of spinal cord injury, stroke, concussion, and traumatic brain injury.

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