A gene therapy project at the IGTP is one of the four biomedical initiatives chosen by the CaixaImpulse Consolidate Programme

- Innovation, Research

The gene therapy project at the IGTP to treat Friedreich's ataxia, a rare disease, led by the research group for Neurogenetics at the IGTP, is one of the four selected in the first call for CaixaImpulse 2019. It is the first edition of the programme run by 'la Caixa' to promote innovation projects in their later stages. 

The programme rewards biomedical initiatives focussed on resolving big challenges in health. The four projects selected in this first edition are: a diagnostic test to contribute to personalized medicine for cancer; precision gene editing technologies for advanced therapies: an innovative alternative to antibiotics to cure bacterial infectious diseases in intensive care and a first class gene therapy with adeno-associated virus to treat Friedreich's ataxia. The last project is led by Dr Antoni Matilla and Dra Ivelisse Sánchez from the Neurogenetics Research Group at the IGTP. 

The four projects have been chosen from 35 proposals from 22 research centres from Spain and Portugal. Each winning project will receive up to 300,000 euros as well as a personalized programme which includes access to the best mentors and experts in innovation.  

"This help will allow us to bring our proposal for therapy to the clinical phase to evaluate the treatment in patients with the disease," comments Antoni Matilla, "with an accompanying programme that facilitates the attraction of private funds." The CaixaImpulse Consolidate Programme is a response to the extension of the Validate Call, which was set up five years ago to support projects in the early stages of biomedical knowledge transfer. The programmes are supported by 'la Caixa' and 'Caixa Capital Risc'. 

Five years of research attests for the project 

The IGTP team has been working on the gene therapy for five years to stop, prevent and reverse the progression of Friedreich's ataxia, a hereditary disease that affects children and adults, caused by a genetic alteration that provokes severe progressive neurodegeneration, affects the heart and causes movement problems. The project has good preclinical results to back it up. The project team collaborates with the Viral Vector for Gene Therapy Production Unit at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, led by Dr. Miguel Chillón. 

The selection process has been exhaustive and the IGTP project has been the second best scored in this edition. Once the projects are presented selection process following the European Science Foundation standards is started. In the first phase, evaluators for the areas of health, life sciences and business examine all the proposals. The projects passing this pre-selection phase are called in for face-to-face interviews with the Innovation Selection Board made up of international experts from different fields: pharmaceuticals, business schools and health and biotechnology companies.