The accumulation of ectopic fat, especially in the abdomen (visceral fat), is an independent cardiovascular risk factor and is also associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver, a condition that affects one in four people around the world. Despite the high prevalence of this disease, which is often associated with obesity or type 2 diabetes, there is no approved drug for treatment and only lifestyle recommendations are offered, such as following a healthy diet and exercising. With the aim of developing a therapy to reduce visceral fat, Endolipid Therapeutics S.L., a new spin-off from Vall d’Hebron, has emerged based on a research project from the Diabetes and Metabolism research group at the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), led by Dr David Martínez Selva, as Principal Investigator, and Dr Rafael Simó, head of the group and the Department of Endocrinology and Nutrition at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital.
One of Dr David Martínez Selva's research lines is to investigate the relationship between sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) and different human diseases. This protein binds sexual steroids with high affinity and regulates their bioavailability. The results obtained using humanised mice, cell lines and human samples have shown that SHBG has alternative functions: it regulates fat formation, promotes the degradation of accumulated fat (lipolytic effect) and has an anti-inflammatory role. “We found that overexpression of SHBG, in mouse models with obesity and fatty liver, prevented and reversed fat accumulation in both adipose tissue and the liver. It also reduced inflammation associated with these diseases,” says Dr Martínez Selva, principal investigator in the research group.
The anti-inflammatory and lipolytic effect also opens up a huge potential in the field of cosmetics and, specifically, for the treatment of cellulite resulting from fat accumulating under the skin.
The efforts of the research group have been aimed at identifying the specific region of SHBG involved in the anti-fat accumulation and anti-inflammatory effects. The optimisation of these fragments that mimic the beneficial effects of the whole protein has enabled specific peptides to be obtained for the treatment of fatty liver and others for cellulite. In addition, the measure of these peptides anticipates viable development and exploitation, becoming the main asset of the company.
Over the next two years, the company plans to promote the application of peptides for non-alcoholic fatty liver, leading to clinical development stages, to validate this innovative therapeutic approach. According to Dr Albert Palomer, CEO of the company, “we hope that this dual model will enable us to progress towards an innovative treatment for fatty liver, a disease that silently affects the health of a huge portion of the population.”
Non-alcoholic fatty liver, a disease that can progress to cirrhosis
Non-alcoholic fatty liver is caused by excessive fat accumulation in this organ due to causes other than alcohol abuse. Its importance lies in the fact that, if not detected early, this accumulation of fat can lead to inflammation of the liver with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fibrosis and eventually cirrhosis. In this sense, since it does not initially display clinical manifestations, the disease is underdiagnosed and the diagnosis usually comes too late. Therefore, it is important to improve the detection and knowledge of the disease, as well as to develop treatments that stop its evolution.
The technology developed by Endolipid Therapeutics would be a new possible therapeutic approach for this disease, which is increasingly widespread and has important healthcare and economic derivatives.
Endolipid Therapeutics S.L.
Endolipid Therapeutics S.L. is staffed, at the top tier, by Dr David Martínez Selva and Dr Rafael Simó, who will be the Scientific Director and Medical Advisor respectively. The company also has the support of the VHIR and GENESIS Ventures. Dr Albert Palomer has recently joined the project as CEO of the company.
GENESIS Ventures is an investment enterprise managed by the consultancy firm GENESIS Biomed, specialised in the creation of technological companies in the healthcare sector. They have accumulated numerous success cases, having participated in the most important investment rounds carried out in Catalonia and Spain in the last 4 years. In addition, GENESIS Biomed has collaborated with initiatives from Vall d’Hebron such as Anaconda and Peptomyc. In 2019, GENESIS joined the Endolipid Therapeutics project and is committed to the development of the technology, and now provides a first investment, contacts and the know-how to deal with the early phases of the company's activity. GENESIS also recruited the CEO of the company, Dr Albert Palomer, who was hired once the company was formed and the second investment from GENESIS was received. According to Josep Lluís Falcó, CEO of GENESIS Ventures: “We are very pleased to see how the GENESIS Ventures investment model helps to make hospital research initiatives become spin-offs by leading a project as promising as this.” On the other hand, the incorporation of Dr Albert Palomer as CEO of the company, who brings proven experience in managing health enterprises to the table, strengthens the management team of Endolipid Therapeutics.
The project has been supported by the VHIR Innovation Unit, which has accompanied the project and the team throughout the process of valuation and transfer of the project. The incorporation of Endolipid Therapeutics S.L. joins the recent incorporations of VHIR spin-offs, such as BSURE S.L. and MiMARK Diagnostics S.L. This consolidates the achievement of one of the VHIR's objectives, which is transferring the results of biomedical research to the health system and the market, in the form of new products and services with a high clinical, social and economic value and impact.