Having the right development at the right time - this is how the development of the young Bulgarian biotechnology company Micar 21 can be described. The team has found a way to disarm the COVID-19 killer by developing a triple approach in discovering a cure, thus ensuring greater efficiency and realization.
In the beginning, the company was able to create a specific suitable inhibitory molecule to act as an antagonist of both CCR5 and CCR7 proteins, which are essential in the structure of a number of viruses - most types of coronaviruses, AIDS, metastases of various cancers and immune diseases. Other approaches are related to recent scientific studies which indicate that COVID-19 enters the cell through another membrane protein - ACE2. There are many approved drugs that slow down the ACE2 protein but cannot be used to treat viral infections. Micar 21 manages to develop a specific inhibitor to prevent the interaction between COVID-19 and ACE2.
Micar 21 has 18 new drug molecules in 7 therapeutic areas, including neurology, oncology, cardiovascular system, dermatology and rare diseases. It focuses on the first stage of design, drug discovery, and the creation of models to predict their activity and selectivity. Therefore, we may call Micar 21 a "factory" for the discovery of new drug molecules whose innovation lies in combining traditional fundamental science with the application of artificial intelligence. And the results are promising - it manages to shorten the period from18 months to 6 weeks for the transition to pre-clinical studies.
The team creates theoretical digital structures and 3D models of molecules. Those that prove effective are set aside as assets in new spin-off companies, get patented, and then they are looking for investments for the next phases to clinically prove the new potential drug.
Who is who
The main engine that drives the project is Dr. Philip Fratev, who has nearly 20 years of experience in the field of science. He has worked at prestigious research institutes and universities in Europe and the USA, including the Institute of Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering at BAS. He has a master's degree in physics, a doctorate in computer chemistry, and has gained a degree in computer toxicology. The other co-founder of the company is Dimitar Dimitrov, a specialist in business process optimization. Both graduated in Astronomy at Sofia University, but have a great amount of knowledge in various fields, which is a huge advantage in the development of this joint project.
The company has won a number of awards, including Investor of the Year 2018, Innovative Enterprise of the Year, the Grand Prize of the European Center for Economic Diplomacy - CIDIC, Best Biotechnology Startup 2017 at the CEI Startup Awards. Micar 21 is one of the 198 global companies included in the report of the international agency for market analysis Roots Analysis.
The funding of Micar 21 is entirely an internal investment of the partners. There are no specific mechanisms in Bulgaria to support private R&D. In the field of biotechnology, there is no coverage under any of the programs of the various ministries, agencies or the Fund of Funds.
The whole team wishes to develop the drug in Bulgaria and release the "white swallow", which will help humanity to escape from the pandemic from here. But there are many "Buts." The funding that Micar 21 is seeking to start the next phase of pre-clinical research is about 4 million euros. The company fails to secure these funds from Bulgarian sources. European procedures are also slow and cumbersome and it would take a long time to receive funding for a specific project. That's why Micar 21 resorted to negotiations with investors from around the world, among them the US, South Korea, Israel, and the UK. The future will show whether this will be yet another example of a Bulgarian discovery that has been realized abroad.