| Category: Success stories

“The drug stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and improves the oxygen intake of tissue, which is expected to considerably improve heart function.”

RNatives is developing novel heart medication

RNatives, a company from Kuopio developing pharmaceutical technology, is working on novel heart medication.

The company started from a research discovery on gene regulation made by Docent Mikko Turunen and Postdoctoral Researcher Tiia Turunen: Small RNA molecules can increase target gene expression in the nucleus of the cell. Their scientists’ research was the first in the world to prove that the phenomenon works in animal models.

The researchers discovered a new microRNA that increases the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor VEGFA. This phenomenon can be utilised in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases by delivering the microRNA activating the VEGFA gene to the parts of the heart with reduced circulation due to myocardial ischemia.

– The drug stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and improves the oxygen intake of tissue, which is expected to considerably improve heart function. This makes cardiac insufficiency patients feel better and considerably improves their quality of life, explains Juhani Lahdenperä, the CEO of RNatives.

The utilisation of the invention may not be solely limited to cardiovascular diseases. Lahdenperä points out that the company has developed a platform technology that enables the creation of novel RNA drugs for several different target genes for purposes such as the treatment of neurological diseases.

– If we obtain a lot of funding, we will start developing new targeted drugs for various diseases. In addition to funding, we are looking to find industrial and academic partners with an interest in applying the RNA activation to different target molecules, now also from the Kuopio Health network.

Juhani Lahdenperä

Parent company in the United States

RNatives was established in 2020. When the aim is the commercial application of a biopharmaceutical, the development requires a lot of patience. The drug development project is currently in the pre-clinical stage. Lahdenperä estimates, that in the best-case scenario, clinical trials will take place in 2 to 3 years, while it may take up to 10 years to enter the market.

By its corporate form, RNatives is an American company with an affiliate in Finland. The company’s research activities and product development are carried out by a six-person team in Kuopio, at a laboratory in Novapolis completed in the spring of 2022.

– We need a lot of investment funds. Based on our own and our investors’ experiences, we established right at the start that we’d struggle to attract sufficient funding if we remained a fully Finnish-owned company. Currently, the parent company’s main goal is to get funding for the commercial application of the technology platform, Lahdenperä explains.

Interest in the Kuopio Health collaboration

While RNatives has only been part of the Kuopio Health innovation ecosystem for a short time, it has already gained concrete benefits from the membership.

– Thanks to Kuopio Health, we got to participate in a Nordic fair, and the financial advantages just that one event has brought us have already exceeded our membership fee, Lahdenperä explains.

He points out that RNatives is highly interested in cooperating with the other members of Kuopio Health. The company’s pharmaceutical invention and development technology can benefit the network.

The company’s other strong competence area is extracellular vesicles, also known as exosomes, which RNatives applies in RNA drug delivery. Lähdenperä estimates that there is potential for collaboration in the innovation ecosystem related to this competence.

Technology transfer agreement gets praise

Juhani Lahdenperä appreciates the activities of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio Health. He finds that the university’s openness to listen to messages and wishes from the field is unique on Finland’s scale.

– It increases competitiveness and brings various opportunities for consultation and business in the region, and also provides the labour market with top experts.

Also from the company’s perspective, the technology transfer agreement made with the university has also increased interest in the company among investors. According to Lahdenperä, it fulfils the criteria set by international investors.

Lahdenperä praises the support obtained from the ELY Centre for North Savo, as the company was established at a time when the operating environment has been very challenging at the global level.

– Thanks to their support, we have been able to employ more personnel for a longer time, which strengthens our operations and allows us to make faster progress in pursuing our aims.

Read more about RNatives

Read more about Kuopio Health membership