The startup company Akthelia Pharmaceuticals, founded on the basis of research conducted by scientists at the University of Iceland and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, was one of 11 companies presented at the Science 2 Startup symposium in the United States on 24 April. Akthelia, which is working towards the development of new antimicrobial drugs, is the first foreign company to be admitted to the symposium.
Akthelia is founded on the research of Professor Guðmundur Hrafn Guðmundsson of the Faculty of Life and Environmental Sciences, Professor Eiríkur Steimgrímsson of the Faculty of Medicine and their colleagues, Professor Roger Strömberg and Professor Birgitta Agerberth of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
Akthelia's research and operations focus on peptides, which are short protein chains. Peptides play a key role in mammalian immune systems, including human immune systems. They might be described as a kind of inbuilt antibiotic and the first line of defence against pathogens. Certain kinds of pathogens can, however, reduce the activity of these peptides, leading to infection. The scientists at Akthelia have discovered a compound that stimulates the production of peptides in the body, thereby strengthening the immune system. They hope it will be possible to use this compound either by itself or in combination with other antibiotics to fight infection, including those caused by multidrug-resistant bacteria, which are a growing global problem.
The Science 2 Startup symposium aims to strengthen connections between biotech investors and startups and scientists at the world's leading research institutions. The symposium was created by the venture capital firms Atlas Venture, F-Prime Capital Partners and SV Health Investors, all of which specialise in investments in the areas of biotech, life sciences, pharmaceuticals and medical science. The focus of the symposium is on presenting startup companies doing particularly promising and exciting work in the field of life and health sciences. Only a small number of companies are selected.
Representatives of 200 companies and research teams from the world's leading research institutes applied to present their projects this year, but only 11 were selected, including Akthelia which is the first foreign company to be included. Eiríkur Steingrímsson presented the company's research at the symposium, which was attended by investors, the executives of successful startups in the life sciences as well as important figures from the pharmaceutical industry. The symposium took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.