Alumnus studies disease treatments

A science entrepreneur who grew up in Summerland is working on treatments for Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease.

A science entrepreneur who grew up in Summerland is working on treatments for Parkinson’s Disease and Huntington’s Disease.

Joost Schulte graduated from Summerland Secondary School in 1988 and has since completed a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and cell biology and a Ph.D. in genetics and neuroscience from the University of British Columbia.

He was a staff scientist at EnVivo Pharmaceuticals in Watertown, Massachusetts for two years, where he was the lead inventor on one of the company’s first patents.

He and Katharine Sepp co-founded Oxalys Pharmaceuticals, based on discoveries they made at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Their work today is on treatments for neurodegenerative disorders such as Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Their experimental therapeutic for Huntington’s disease was discovered because of its capacity to stimulate brain cell growth, and survival. In treating Huntington’s disease, this drug could potentially delay disease onset as well as treating symptoms.

“This works in animal models,” he said. “Now we have to show it functions the same way in patients.”

He added that the drug is not a cure for the disease. “The patients will still carry the Huntington’s mutation.”

A Parkinson’s disease treatment in development may also delay disease onset, although more research is still needed.

This drug eliminates toxic proteins that cause the disease. “Preliminary studies are incredibly exciting as they show great promise,” he said.

Since Oxalys Pharmaceuticals works with repurposing existing drugs, the development is much faster than if the drugs are developed from the beginning.

Immediate next steps for Oxalys are to complete a Phase I clinical trial for their Huntington’s therapeutic.

Schulte said it will be the first drug they are bringing to the market and in a best-case scenario it could be on the market in five years although timelines are difficult to predict with certainty.

In addition to the pharmaceutical research, Schulte said part of his work is in raising the necessary funds for the work.

The company has used government research and development grants and private investment money to conduct their product development.

Recently, Oxalys won grants from the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the National Research Council of Canada, as well as an award from the Ontario Brain Institute.