5 companies spearheading the emerging biotech scene in the Balkans

Biotech companies in the Balkans

Located between the Adriatic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Aegean and Black seas, the Balkans is comprised of many countries, including the likes of Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Slovenia, and Serbia. While biotech in the region is still developing, particularly with regard to healthcare, various countries within the Balkans are beginning to embrace their life sciences sectors, developing hubs to attract more attention and accelerate local innovation. In this article, we take a look at five biotech companies in the Balkans. 

Table of contents

    Acies Bio

    Based in Slovenia, Acies Bio works on solutions in microbial biotech, developing efficient strains, sustainable bioprocesses, and novel bioactive compounds. The specific areas in which the company works are strain development, fermentation process development, DSP development, and transfer to production. 

    As an example of what some of these areas involve, for strain development, the company engineers strains through directed evolution, in which it fine tunes key parameters of chemical and physical mutagen exposure for each strain, from common cell factories like E. coli and S. cerevisiae to physiologically more complex bioactive metabolite producing organisms, such as actinomycetes and Myxobacteria. Meanwhile, for DSP development, Acies Bio initiates the development of downstream processing steps early on in the development of bioprocess technologies. Its expertise here ranges from the simplest inactivated biomass-based products to multi-step isolation and purification of target molecules with API-grade purity. 

    In January 2023, Acies Bio joined forces with Smart Resilin – a company producing resilin protein through genetic engineering. This partnership was beneficial, as it made Smart Resilin’s technology available to Acies Bio to develop and deliver resilin at scale for sustainable applications in a multitude of industries, from beauty to aerospace.

    Bionature

    Bionature is a spin-off of the University of Crete in Greece. Currently working on pre-clinical testing, it focuses on the development of novel, proprietary, blood-brain barrier permeable small molecules for the treatment of neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases, such as diabetic retinopathy, demyelination and multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. 

    The company has discovered that its synthetic small molecules interact with the receptors of the endogenous neurotrophins, nerve growth factor, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor and are therefore referred to as “microneurotrophins.”

    Microneurotrophins have been shown to be very effective in preventing and reversing the demyelination and neuronal degeneration observed in the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis model of multiple sclerosis and in preventing apoptosis in models of retinal degeneration. They are also strong inducers of neurogenesis (the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain) in vivo. 

    Micar21

    Bulgarian company Micar21 is an artificial intelligence (AI) drug discovery factory. The Balkans-based biotech company is aiming to create a large societal impact by improving quality of life through the discovery of novel blockbuster drug molecules for multiple diseases for both humans and companion animals. It focuses on the entire drug discovery process, using improved structure-based insilico drug design from scratch and bringing its candidates into preclinical testing, with advanced predictions of activity, selectivity, and absorption–distribution–metabolism–excretion–toxicity (ADMET). 

    The company’s lead preclinical asset is called MIC1045 and is intended to treat cancer metastasis. It targets CCR7, which has been found to play a significant role in controlling the migration of tumor cells towards the lymphatic system and metastasis and can, therefore, contribute to the expansion of cancer. The company’s other preclinical drug candidate is known as MIC4578, which is intended to tackle chronic pain by targeting glycine transporter 2 (GlyT2). GlyT2 inhibitors are thought to relieve many aspects of chronic pain by elevating synaptic glycine concentrations and thereby restoring glycinergic descending inhibition. Micar21 also has numerous other candidates in its pipeline in the lead identification and lead optimization phases. 

    ResQ Biotech 

    Greek company ResQ Biotech is advancing early-stage drug discovery for diseases caused by protein misfolding and aggregation. Protein misfolding diseases (PMDs) are a large group of more than 50 human disorders caused by the misfolding of specific proteins. They include serious conditions with high socio-economic impact, such as Alzheimer’s disease, systemic amyloidosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, retinitis pigmentosa, and type 2 diabetes.

    Protein misfolding has been recognized as a common molecular feature underlying all of these diseases, so ResQ Biotech believes that this constitutes a tremendous opportunity for drug discovery.

    The company is exploiting the common molecular origin of PMDs, such as the tendency of certain pathogenic proteins to misfold and form harmful aggregates, so as to develop a common framework for the efficient discovery of anti-PMD therapeutics. It has generated engineered microbial cells that function as a stand-alone, living discovery platform for putative drugs against PMDs. These modified microbes have been programmed to biosynthesize combinatorial libraries of short, drug-like cyclic peptides and simultaneously screen them to identify chemical rescuers of disease-associated protein misfolding and aggregation.

    The Balkans biotech company has several ongoing research programs focused on diseases caused by the misfolding of both soluble and integral membrane proteins. Its current lead asset is intended to treat Alzheimer’s disease and is currently in the in vivo proof of concept phase. 

    theraCell

    Also based in Greece, theraCell specializes in the development of innovative cell and gene therapy products. The company’s therapeutic portfolio spans the areas of orthopedics, dermatology, nephrology, immuno-oncology, and tissue repair and regeneration. 

    The company says that it currently has a number of therapies under clinical development in collaboration with Orgenesis, as well as in collaboration with international centers of excellence in the field of cell and gene therapies. Additionally, theraCell actively participates in a large number of European academic and clinical research programs for products with potential for commercial application. 

    The formation of theraCell’s key joint venture with Orgenesis became the basis for an expansion of its therapeutic pipeline, with novel cell and gene therapy products developed using tailored processes to meet patients’ needs. This partnership was then awarded up to €32 million ($34 million) from the Greek government and was designated a “Priority Investment of Strategic National Importance.” As a result of this designation, the joint venture was inducted into Greece’s fast-track licensing and approval process to help advance the development and clinical use of theraCell’s cell and gene therapies within the point-of-care setting. 

    Biotech in the Balkans: an industry still in development

    As touched upon previously, life sciences in the Balkans is still developing and, as of yet, there are not too many healthcare-focused biotech companies based within the region. However, there are signs that this might soon change.

    For example, in December 2023, it was announced that Serbia had started work on a biotech campus in the country, which is expected to harness Serbian scientific expertise and private partners from among the world’s biggest pharma, genetics, and healthcare companies. Additionally, it was reported that pharmacy and biotech are two of the fastest-growing sectors in Slovenia, while Bulgaria’s pharmaceutical industry has significantly increased its R&D and production capacities.

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