C-NATM from Munich wins Cluster4Future to develop new nucleic acid-based therapies - interview with the leaders

[Translate to English:] CNATM Cluster4Future

Die Leiter des Zukunftsclusters C-NATM: Prof. Dr. Thomas Carell (links, © Prof. Carell) und Prof. Dr. Stefan Engelhardt (© TUM).

The seven winners of the second round of the Clusters4Future competition have been announced. Munich's C-NATM, a cluster for the development of new nucleic acid-based therapies, is the proud winner. BioM, as the Munich cluster organization, provided support and spoke with Prof. Thomas Carell and Prof. Stefan Engelhardt, the heads of the future cluster.

RNA is one of the buzzwords of the pandemic and, along with corona vaccines, is also a key hope in the individualized treatment of a wide range of diseases such as cancer and autoimmune disorders. The possibility of designing nucleic acids in a highly specific and theoretically predictable way opens up completely new treatment approaches in medicine.

The future cluster C-NATM from Munich is dedicated to both the development of new drugs and next-generation vaccines based on nucleic acids. The new key technology is intended to enable treatment successes for previously untreatable diseases. In collaboration with industrial partners, C-NATM aims to establish a highly innovative and world-leading industrial focus in the field of nucleic acid therapeutics.

An interview with the directors of the cluster of the future:

BioM: Congratulations on this success with C-NATM! What does it mean for you or your project to have been awarded by the BMBF as one of the 7 winners of the Clusters4Future competition?

Prof. Thomas Carell: For me, this is first of all an enormous honor and a great challenge. I have been coordinating research networks for a long time, but only from university groups. It is something very special to now be able to coordinate something in which the biotech scene and thus industry is also involved.

BioM: You are conducting research with C-NATM on nucleic acid-based drugs and vaccines. What are the advantages of this technology?

Prof. Stefan Engelhardt: Conventional drugs and biologicals work by binding to about 650 proteins. It is becoming increasingly difficult and costly to develop new active ingredients, and the costs now amount to over EUR 1 billion per approved drug. Nucleic acid-based drugs, on the other hand, can in principle be developed against any protein-coding messenger RNA. In addition, there are thousands of non-coding RNAs that are increasingly being recognized as disease-relevant. So we have a lot of new potential targets. Another principal advantage in the development of nucleic acid-based drugs is the significantly shortened path from basic research to clinical trials. This means that new active substances can be designed, synthesized and tested in a fraction of the time required for conventional drugs.

BioM: Your vision is to use nucleic acids as active ingredients to combat diseases that have been untreatable up to now. Which indications does C-NATM focus on?

Prof. Thomas Carell: We have projects with very different indications. The unifying factor is always that we are dealing with nucleic acids as the active entities. Nucleic acids are the third major class of pharmaceutically active substances that are still very poorly researched as therapeutics.

BioM: What will the cluster look like in 10 years, or what is your desired scenario?

Prof. Stefan Engelhardt: In Munich, we intend to provide very targeted support for projects that actually bring new drugs into clinical trials. Our dream scenario is that about 10 active substances from the Munich cluster for nucleic acid therapy will make it into mid- to late-stage clinical trials. The dream is, of course, one or more drugs that will actually be approved. That is very ambitious, but we consider it to be quite realistic. 

Prof. Dr. Thomas Carell heads a research group in the field of chemical biology at the Institute of Chemical Epigenetics at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU), which focuses on the analysis of the chemistry of epigenetic programming in DNA and RNA.

Prof. Dr. Stefan Engelhardt is head of the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Universitätsklinikum rechts der Isar at the Technical University of Munich (TUM).

BioM, as the cluster management organization, was supportive in the application of C-NATM and warmly congratulates the winners.

The other winners of the Clusters4Future competition can be found at: Future Cluster Initiative (Clusters4Future).

About the BMBF's Future Clusters Initiative:

The first competition round of the Future Clusters Initiative (Clusters4Future) started in summer 2019. While the future clusters of the first competition round were already announced in February 2021, the second competition round started in parallel in November 2020.

The fourteen future clusters in total are Germany's innovation networks of the future. Their aim is to find suitable solutions for the major challenges of our time more quickly. The topics are as diverse as the winners' concepts: neuromorphic hardware for autonomous systems, personalized cell and gene therapy processes, sustainable marine research, quantum technology, new approaches to drug development and hydrogen. To this end, universities, research institutions, companies, social and other relevant players in the regions have joined forces, sharing exclusive knowledge with each other and pooling their expertise.