Dr. Kristina Trujillo is the founder and CEO of TNeuroPharma, which is developing a new blood test to detect Alzheimer’s Disease earlier. | Photo courtesy NMSU
The Arrowhead Innovation Fund has announced an investment in TNeuroPharma, a company creating a new blood test to detect Alzheimer’s disease earlier. Founder and CEO Dr. Kristina Trujillo, a New Mexico State University alumna, said this technology also has the potential to lead to future treatment.
TNeuroPharma already has raised over $1.2 million and now AIF will be adding to their growth. Beto Pallares, AIF fund manager, said the early studies by TNeuroPharma have been exciting.
“We want to help the commercialization of this product – and the possible treatment – come to market as fast as possible,” Pallares said.
Trujillo said the AIF funding will allow TNeuroPharma to advance the first stage of technology development, The T-Track Diagnostic.
“This will be developed as a Laboratory Development Test, which is implemented in a clinical facility,” she said. “This is a much less intense and invasive test, unlike PET scans, or MRIs, or checking the cerebrospinal fluid. We have established a collaboration with Tricore Reference Laboratories to develop the test in the next two to three years. Because the test is a simple, inexpensive blood test, ideally, it can be part of an annual checkup.”
Trujillo began her science career by earning her bachelor’s degree in microbiology, and master’s degree and Ph.D. in molecular biology from NMSU. For more than 10 years, Trujillo served as a cancer and metabolism researcher and professor at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
“I started with a track scholarship, but during my undergrad years, I started working in a lab and what I was doing was so fascinating that I wanted to stay there and do more research. I stayed for my masters and then went on to get my Ph.D.,” she said.
Trujillo has published 22 peer-reviewed articles and received grants from the National Institute of Health, the American Cancer Society, and the U.S. Department of Defense. But she has always been drawn towards Alzheimer’s disease. As a child, she watched her grandmother decline over 10 years from Alzheimer’s, which sparked her initial interest in health research.
Trujillo said Alzheimer’s treatment research in the past has focused on Beta-Amyloid and Tau proteins, but that research has had a 99.6 percent failure rate.
“Those are the proteins that make up the plaques you can see in the brain with Alzheimer’s,” Trujillo said. “The plaques are just such an obvious pathology, that was the most obvious thing to go after because it makes up all these tangles that you can see in the brain. What’s been shown is that they’re just a symptom and not the actual cause of the disease. Going after a symptom isn’t going to cure it; it’s like trying to treat a cold by blowing your nose.”
TNeuroPharma is based on the research of Dr. Christopher Wheeler, the company’s chief science officer, which started when he was on the faculty at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Wheeler found the adaptive immune system (T cell) is key to understanding the disease. Wheeler identified a population of abnormal T cells that enter the brain, causing the loss of resident neurons. This leads to the classic Alzheimer’s pathology, including Beta-Amyloid and Tau accumulation, neurofibrillary tangles, neuroinflammation and progressive cognitive decline, the first re-creation of this defining combination in animals.
In humans, the T cells responsible for this initial stage of Alzheimer’s are detectable in a blood sample and can identify an Alzheimer’s patient very early in the progression of the disease – as early as Mild Cognitive Impairment – possibly earlier. This is the basis of the company’s T-Track Diagnostic Assay. Their human clinical data show that this simple blood test is at least as effective as far more costly brain imaging and invasive cerebral-spinal fluid sampling, and more effective than other blood tests now under development.
In addition to the biomarker utility of this discovery, Wheeler has also shown in animals that blocking these T-cells’ entry into brain, or their proper functioning once there, prevents Alzheimer’s disease progression. This is the basis of the company’s T-Treat Therapeutic. Ideally, the T-Track Diagnostic will be utilized to detect the disease early before major neuronal damage has occurred. Then the T-Treat Therapeutic will be administered to prevent the disease from progressing, possibly before any signs of it are ever detectable.
“Even though my background was in cancer, Dr. Wheeler’s Alzheimer’s research was so groundbreaking that when the opportunity to start T-Neuro came up, I couldn’t say no,” Trujillo said. “This technology has the potential to save millions of families from this devastating disease. I had to do something to bring it to market, so that’s when Chris and I decided to start T-Neuro.”
AIF has commitments for a total investment of $800,000 from New Mexico’s Catalyst Fund, a $20 million “fund of funds” to support New Mexico companies, and $500,000 from the NMSU Foundation, as well as a $300,000 grant through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies program and other private investors.
AIF stands at $2 million in commitments and is looking for companies with entrepreneurs fully committed to growing and scaling their company and who are seeking between $25,000 and $200,000 in investment toward their total seed round fundraising target.
Author: Cassie McClure – NMSU
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