Biotech startup Treeway received an innovation credit from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). Thanks to this credit, TW001 reached the last phase in its clinical registration as a medicine to treat the illness ALS. “This is a clear example of how big the impact can be", says Inez de Greef, the CEO of Treeway.
What is the impact of your medicine on people with ALS?
Inez: “Two ALS patients founded our startup in December 2012. They had discovered that you need a biotech company if you want to develop new medicines. They phoned me and said they would like to meet me because I have a lot of experience with biotech. Their story inspired me. In early 2013 we developed the strategy and founded biotech company Treeway.
ALS is a fatal disease. Most patients die within three to five years after the diagnosis. When we started the company, there was one medicine that extended patients’ lives by a few months. What we wanted was a new medicine that not only extends patients’ lives but also improves their quality of life.
We analysed all products that had ever been tested on animals and humans. We discovered that in Japan they used a medicine called edaravone to treat people who had had a haemorrhage (brain bleed). That was a very interesting product, but patients received it through a drip in hospital. That is not practical for ALS patients. We wanted to develop this product to treat ALS and first produce it in a form that patients can take by mouth.
We received an innovation credit for this from RVO at the beginning of 2017. We were particularly happy at the time with the help we received from RVO's Arnold Sneekes. We are now cooperating with Anna Faddeeva and Harm de Jong. TW001 became our biggest product and is in the last clinical phase. Our pharma partner Ferrer is already testing the product in ten countries. We will complete the study in 2023. If the results are positive, we will put the product on the market in 2024. It will then be the second official product available for ALS patients in Europe.”
Do you have any more plans for the future?
“The Alzheimer Drug Discovery Foundation asked us for more information about TW001. They were prepared to provide part of the money that Treeway would need to also develop TW001 as a medicine against Alzheimer's disease. The number of people with Alzheimer's is growing all over the world, so we need new medicines for this disease. In the end, they invested in Treeway TW001AD, a new company that we have set up. We also received a new innovation credit from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency for that company, in 2021.”
What is your experience with RVO?
“Very positive. They carefully consider the possibilities for cooperation. An open dialogue is always possible. Our cooperation with them works well; we can rely on each other. RVO helps us financially to reach a higher level. Receiving the innovation credit is the most important thing for us, of course. The fact that it comes with pleasant communication is another positive element. This is why I have applied for a second innovation credit from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.”
What are the next steps for Treeway?
“One of our plans for the future is to add TW001 to our portfolio. This is a long-term goal that will enable us to treat ALS even better. Our mission statement clearly says that ALS must remain a priority for our company. The people who founded Treeway decided this. At the same time, the number of neurodegenerative diseases has grown worldwide. Think of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's. This means it is logical for us to move on with this medicine for Alzheimer's that we have now developed. We need a good business model for the future and of course, we also want to make money. More money than we are now making based on the existing results. Also, because that will enable us to do even more research. Money is the limiting factor for Treeway.”
At RVO, Anna Faddeeva maintains the contacts with Inez de Greef. How does Anna look back on their cooperation?
“The cooperation was very pleasant. We had a lot of contact with Inez and communication was always clear and open. Inez always informed us in time about any changes or important events. We completed the innovation credit project successfully. At the end of the project, it took more time to sign a deal with pharmaceutical company Ferrer. They are now doing the phase 3 studies and we hope the results will be positive. I am particularly interested in healthcare initiatives. So this project was especially interesting for me. It is wonderful that we can support startups and patients.”
What did you learn from Treeway?
“That open and clear communication is very important. It is essential for effective cooperation. I also see that many clinical projects arrive at a deal later than planned. That is why it is so important first to discuss all ‘what if’ scenarios with the parties involved. That also helps to ensure open communication and manage expectations.”