New biotech company: Confo Therapeutics

15 October 2015
​Confo Therapeutics originates from the CONFO® technology based on the use of single domain
antibodies to stabilize dynamic proteins. The technology has been developed by Jan Steyaert
and his team (VIB/Vrije Universiteit Brussel) and has for the first time allowed the stabilization
of medically relevant GPCRs (G-protein coupled receptors) in their active functional state, which is essential for drug discovery.

A consortium led by Capricorn Health-Tech Fund with the participation of Qbic and SOFI has contributed € 3 million in the first institutional round of investment. These resources will be used for the further development of the innovative CONFO® technology platform and to initiate drug discovery programs.

Confo Therapeutics will start with a team of six employees under the supervision of Stephane van
Rooijen, formerly from Genzyme and Viropharma.

Stephane van Rooijen, CEO Confo Therapeutics: “Confo Therapeutics will position the revolutionary CONFO® technology as the new standard in the field of drug development. The company will build a portfolio of pre-clinical development programs in therapeutically relevant disease domains”.

Jan Steyaert, Scientific Founder & CSO: “I am truly satisfied that our research is now resulting in tangible applications for patients. Our new technology is facilitating the development of new drugs for diseases that are currently hard to treat or untreatable.”

Johan Cardoen, Managing Director VIB: “The establishment of this start-up proves once again
the importance of innovative basic research and the potential of our biotech sector”.

CONFO® technology successfully used to unravel active state structure of peptide receptor.
The most powerful analgesic and addictive properties of opiate alkaloids are mediated by the μ-opioid receptor (μOR). As a receptor primarily responsible for the effects of opium, the μOR is one of the oldest drug targets within the pharmacopeia. Opioid receptors are highly versatile signaling molecules. Activation of the μOR results in signaling through the heterotrimeric G protein Gi, resulting in analgesia and sedation as well as euphoria and physical dependence. The μOR can also signal through arrestin, and this pathway has been attributed to adverse effects of opioid analgesics including tolerance, respiratory suppression and constipation.

In two Nature papers, an international team of scientists including Jan Steyaert and Toon Laeremans (VIB/VrijeUniversiteitBrussel) reported on the X-ray and NMR structures of the agonist-bound μOR receptor, stabilized in its fully activated state using a G protein mimetic camelid antibody fragment.

Huang et al., Nature 2015
Sounier et al., Nature 2015

From left to right: Hassan El-Hassan, Sarah Triest, Stephane van Rooijen, Maja Debulpaep, Jan Steyaert and Toon Laeremans