Alector was founded to explore two scientific insights: that the immune system plays a critical role in neurodegenerative diseases, and that redirecting aberrant immune cell activity in the brain could improve healthy function. Our strategy is conceptionally similar to immuno-oncology. Immuno-oncology therapies recruit the peripheral adaptive immune system to counteract tumors. Our immuno-neurology therapies recruit the central innate immune system to counteract brain pathologies.
Combining expertise in human genetics, immunology, and neurology, our fierce curiosity drives us to gain deeper understanding into the biologic underpinnings of the diseases we aim to treat so we can identify new medicines with the potential to profoundly impact patients’ lives.
A growing body of human genetics research is revealing that many of the risk genes associated with neurodegenerative conditions are expressed in the microglia, the immune cells of the brain. These relatively new insights into the origins and course by which neurodegenerative diseases develop underscore the important role of healthy innate immune system function, suggesting that the brain’s immune cells are not only responding to disease, as was once thought, but are actively driving the harmful neuroinflammation that is a primary cause of disease. Our immuno-neurology therapeutic strategy was derived from combining human genetic insights with immunology and neurology to identify novel targets for medicines. By targeting the aberrant activity of immune genes associated with a given condition, we believe we can improve the function of the immune system and halt progression of the disease.
The immune system in the brain is composed of a single cell type called microglia that is part of the innate immune system and is functionally similar to that of macrophages. Microglia detect and respond to eliminate pathogens, cell debris, and unwanted substances. These cells also patch leaky blood vessels, ensure that the blood brain barrier is intact, regulate the function of the other support cells in the brain, and adjust the connections between nerve cells.
Microglia cells are critical for maintaining a healthy brain and for counteracting brain diseases. When microglia become dysfunctional due to normal aging or genetic factors, neurodegenerative disease develop. Alector’s therapeutic candidates are intended to harness, recruit, enhance and/or modulate the microglia to counteract the emerging brain pathologies and alter the course of disease.
Our insights into neurology and understanding of disease pathology for the conditions we aim to address are guiding our identification of new therapeutic targets and the development of our therapeutics.
With each of our therapeutic candidates, we identify disease-relevant biomarkers to confirm target engagement and monitor therapeutic impact. Employing fluid biomarkers taken from plasma and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and imaging techniques such as volumetric MRI, we can obtain data about how our product candidates are working sooner than would be typically expected, enabling new insights that then inform program development decisions, future clinical study design, and the discovery of new therapies.