In drug discovery for neurodegenerative diseases, the emphasis is on finding better models of neuronal systems that recapitulate synapses, neuroinflammation and the pathological accumulation of toxic aggregates. Yumanity Therapeutics LLC and a handful of academic labs are taking the counterintuitive strategy of searching for clues in yeast -- trading the organism’s lack of nervous system for its well-characterized genetics and ease of manipulation.
The idea is rooted in the fact that many cellular systems are highly conserved between yeast and humans, and the belief that the biology behind aggregate formation and its consequences will be faithfully represented in the lower organisms.
Advocates think the fungi will offer a faster path to discovering new targets and compounds than assays in mammalian cells, as well as hits more likely to translate to humans than those produced via in vitro screens.
Yumanity was launched in 2014 by its CEO, biotech veteran Tony Coles, based on the work of its late co-founder, Susan Lindquist, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who had built a suite of yeast-based tools for finding targets related to protein misfolding. The company raised a $45 million series A round in February 2016, led by Fidelity Management