University of Eastern Finland: Novel nuclear microRNA could treat cardiovascular disease

07 Apr 2022 | Network Updates | Update from University of Eastern Finland
These updates are republished press releases and communications from members of the Science|Business Network

A novel angiogenic microRNA drug can be a new option for the treatment of ischemic cardiovascular disease. Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland, along with their international collaborators, have published a study in PLOS ONE describing a novel nuclear acting microRNA. The researchers have patented the related innovations and are now further commercially developing them within a new start-up company.

MicroRNAs are small RNA molecules, which regulate gene expression. Their canonical role is gene silencing by targeting messenger RNAs in cell cytoplasm. However, this novel microRNA, miR-466c, has a different mechanism of action. It upregulates the vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGFA) by targeting the gene promoter in the cell nucleus.

In addition to expanding the academic understanding of microRNA biology, these findings have commercial impact for the development of novel RNA drugs. Increasing the expression of VEGFA by using small RNAs offers novel options for the treatment of ischemic cardiovascular disease, where the blood supply in the tissue is compromised.

"RNA activation as a phenomenon has been known for 16 years already, but its commercial potential has been recognised only recently" said Mikko Turunen, RNatives Chairman, Adjunct Professor. 

The researchers patented the findings and made a technology transfer agreement with the University of Eastern Finland for the commercialisation of the related intellectual property through a new company, RNatives (www.rnatives.com). The scientific foundation of the company is in Adjunct Professor Mikko Turunen's and PhD Tiia Turunen's long background in non-coding RNA research. Already in 2009, they were the first to demonstrate RNA activation in vivo in animals (1). Later, they showed that these small RNAs are very efficient in the treatment of myocardial infarction (2). These results, among other data (3), suggested that microRNAs have a role in the regulation of gene expression in the cell nucleus. Mikko Turunen obtained Business Finland’s New Business from Research Ideas funding for the commercialisation of the related intellectual property. As a result, the new company, RNatives, was founded and obtained venture capital funding. The company’s research and development operations are based in Kuopio, and it is partly funded by the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment.

“RNA activation as a phenomenon has been known for 16 years already, but its commercial potential has been recognised only recently,” Mikko Turunen explains.

“Our patented microRNA drug has several advantages over traditional means of increasing gene expression. First of all, by activating the cell’s own therapeutic gene (e.g., VEGFA), all the different spliceforms of the gene are correctly produced. Also, being a small RNA, it is much less immunogenic and more stable than longer RNAs, such as mRNA based drugs,” Turunen says.

In addition to RNA drugs, RNatives is developing engineered exosomes for the delivery of these RNAs into the patients.

This article was first published on 1 April by University of Eastern Finland.

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