One of the wealthiest countries in the world, Luxembourg is renowned for its gromperekichelcher (potato pancakes), fine wines and medieval castles. An economic powerhouse in Europe, the country’s healthtec sector is mainly focused on the manufacture of diagnostic and medical devices, while the biopharma industry, which accounts for 29 per cent of the sector’s income, is gradually growing.
The launch of an incubator in the House Of Bio Health – a collaboration between the Ministry of the Economy and private investors – two years ago, has aimed to host spin-off and start up life science companies in the country, to enhance the sector’s growth.
As the industry in Luxembourg expands, let us take a look at six biotech companies that are flourishing in the field.
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Invisible to the naked eye, microalgae has a high uptake of carbon dioxide, making it efficient in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Leveraging the potential of microalgae that grow in marine ecosystems, the Luxembourg-based biotech company has developed a series of skincare and nutritional products.
Luxbiotech’s photobioreactors cultivate Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA) – a species of cyanobacteria found in freshwater – which is a superfood, as it contains high amounts of chlorophyll which can bolster digestion. In addition, the biotech extracts phycocyanin – a blue photosynthetic pigment – from the algae Spirulina platensis. As the pigment has been found to reduce inflammation in the body, it is of great commercial value.
Another microalgae that the company harvests is Porphyridium cruentum, a red algae that has properties that can replenish the skin and reduce wrinkles. The company’s product, which is synthesized after the algae is cultivated in a controlled environment, is sold as a bioactive serum.
Luxembourg Bio Technologies
Set up in 2008, Luxembourg Bio Technologies manufactures and commercializes reagents and chemicals for peptide synthesis, the process by which peptide bonds are formed from amino acids.
The Luxembourg-based company sells its products to biotechs, pharmaceuticals, and individual researchers, for which its products are utilized in peptide, oligonucleotide, and nanoparticle synthesis. Manufactured with sustainability in mind, some of the company’s products include fatty acids like linoleic acid, lauric acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid, as well as coupling reagents, coupling activators, building blocks, thiol scavengers, thiocyanates and tetrazoles.
The biotech, which is a spin-off of Luxembourg Industries Ltd, also collaborates with facilities across Europe to not only conduct laboratory-scale experiments but also multi-liter reactions, for other companies that do not own production plants to carry out their pilot projects.
As the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria performs the cellular function of supplying energy. But over time, the process of converting fuel to energy results in the accumulation of reactive oxidative species (ROS). An overload of these ROS – which are free radicals – in cells, leads to oxidative stress. The clinical-stage company Mitotech aims to target the mitochondria to tackle neurodegenerative and metabolic disorders.
The biotech company, founded in 2009 in Luxembourg, developed its lead compound SkQ1 for the treatment of dry eye disease – a condition where tears are unable to provide enough lubrication for the eyes. The active ingredient targets lipid peroxidation inside the eye so as to prevent tissue degeneration. The compound is designed to boost tear quality to facilitate lubrication.
Mitotech saw progress in clinical trials for SkQ1, after a phase 3 study conducted in the U.S., proved the candidate’s efficacy in reducing the symptoms of dry eye disease in participants. Moreover, the compound is also being evaluated in preclinical studies for the treatment of glaucoma, Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON), dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and uveitis.
In 2022, Essex Bio-Technology in Hong Kong, secured worldwide rights to develop, manufacture and sell SkQ1-based therapeutic products in the field of ophthalmology. Mitotech’s drug candidate Visomitin – a topical cardiolipin peroxidation inhibitor which consists of SkQ1 – obtained Orphan Drug Designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of LHON, a genetic condition that can lead to vision loss, in 2021.
A spin-off of Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine at the University of Luxembourg, Nium, focused on gut health, offers services such as microbiome and nutrition clinical analyses harnessing the technology of bioinformatics, and conducts in vitro experiments to predict the impact of certain foods on the gut.
The company has developed gut-on-a-chip models that mimic interactions between microbes and the gut. The chip is fed to a stool sample, and after about 48 hours, the composition of the microbiome is examined. Nium works closely with food companies to assign probiotic scores to products, after which the companies decide whether they want to go ahead with the development of their products.
In collaboration with Arizona State University College of Health Solutions, AZ WearTech Center and Aventyn in the U.S., the company is conducting a pilot nutrition support study for ambulatory cancer patients. Its AI-powered wrist device provides tailored nutritional recommendations to ensure post cancer recovery, heart and kidney health.
The biotech company has also partnered with the Luxembourg Institute of Health to investigate how incorporating fibers in our diet affects specific gut bacteria. With this knowledge, the alliance aims to develop a platform to provide personalized dietary recommendations based on an individual’s unique metabolism.
In a bid to identify drug targets and develop candidates for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, OrganoTherapeutics has created human-specific mini-brains, which represents the pathology of the disease.
With a goal to replace animal experiments in drug development as much as possible, the biotech’s midbrain organoids are generated from somatic cells’ samples that are obtained from healthy individuals and Parkinson’s patients, the latter showing dopaminergic neuron impairment.
As part of OrganoTherapeutics’ screening program, the company aims to identify novel active compounds. The company’s AI-based platform performs deep phenotyping – a comprehensive analysis of abnormalities in which the phenotypes are observed – to detect cellular aberrations.
In 2021, a study conducted by the company revealed that clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated protein 9 (Cas9) was able to correct point mutations in the cells taken from Parkinson’s patients. Following this, treatment with 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin improved the chances of autophagy – a process by which damaged cells are reused – of neurons as well as enhanced dopaminergic differentiation of patient-specific neurons in midbrain organoids.
Established in 2019 in Luxembourg, the biotech company has received funding in one round which took place in 2020, with its most recent investors being Canada-based Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) and U.S.-based startup accelerator MassChallenge.
Formed in 2016, Tolerogenics specializes in therapies for allergies and autoimmune diseases. The Luxembourg-based biotech company has developed a tolerance-inducing allergen-specific immunotherapy that aims to reinstall the function of Tregs – regulatory T cells that can suppress an immune response in order to maintain self-tolerance.
The company’s hydrogel ImmuneGel, which is to be injected subcutaneously, is designed to release active substances which then attract antigen presenting cells (APCs). Through the process of phagocytosis, wherein a cell engulfs a large particle, these cells take up peptide-loaded liposomes which are released by the hydrogel, thereby making them allergen-specific APCs. These modified APCs then interact with T cells to produce Treg cells, which, in turn suppress the harmful activity of effector Teff cells, balancing the immune system.
In its pipeline, Tolerogenics has three recombinant protein products and two hydrogels that are allergen-derived T cell peptides. Currently, the allergies it intends to target are Hymenoptera insect venom allergy, house dust mite allergy and birch tree pollen allergy.
The ImmuneGel technology is the brainchild of Tolerogenics and Luxembourg Institute of Health, for which both organizations share the patent.