Phase 1 trial begins for drug to augment therapies for major depressive disorder

Magnetic resonance scan of the brain.

OHSU startup company Autobahn Therapeutics reached a major milestone in November with the initiation of a Phase 1 clinical trial of a treatment for major depressive disorder.

The drug being studied, ABX-002, is a brain-boosting thyroid hormone receptor beta agonist that has the potential to augment antidepressant therapies to improve patient responsiveness to these treatments.

The Phase 1 trial will evaluate the safety of ABX-002 in healthy patients, with a Phase 1b planned to follow, which will explore the safety and initial efficacy of the drug in patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder who have had an inadequate response to antidepressant therapy.

Tom Scanlan, Ph.D.
Tom Scanlan, Ph.D., pictured, who along with Ben Emery, Ph.D., and Dennis Bourdette, M.D., co-founded Autobahn.

ABX-002 is based on a hormone synthesized by Tom Scanlan, Ph.D., professor of physiology and pharmacology in the OHSU School of Medicine. The drug was further evaluated at OHSU by a team including Scanlan, Ben Emery, Ph.D., and Dennis Bourdette, M.D., who co-founded Autobahn. Emery is associate professor of neurology, School of Medicine, and Warren Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience Research, Jungers Center for Neurosciences Research. Bourdette is professor emeritus of neurology, School of Medicine.

The launch of the ABX-002 Phase 1 trial is an important milestone in the process of getting an OHSU-developed compound to market to improve patient care–and it demonstrates the potential of basic science disciplines such as chemical biology to generate novel therapies for unmet clinical needs.  This trial also represents OHSU’s first orally active small-molecule drug to be tested in humans, resting on the concept of using an oral medication to target the brain.  

Many promising academic discoveries fail to reach clinical trials, and the announcement by Autobahn reflects collaborative work by multiple groups in a long process of leading-edge academic research, successful startup formation and fundraising, preclinical testing and regulatory approvals. OHSU Technology Transfer was one of these groups, and helped the team launch the startup with support in patenting, licensing and business development.

Autobahn publicly launched in 2020 with a $76 million series B investment.

The company is focused on developing transformative medicines for disorders of the central nervous system, including multiple sclerosis, major depressive disorder and the rare genetic disorder adrenoleukodystrophy, plus a portfolio of programs that leverage the company’s brain-targeting chemistry platform.  Read more about the Phase 1 trial in the press release.

Additional links

Discovery raises possibility of new medication for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Aug. 09, 2021

Study suggests compound protects myelin, nerve fibers, Jan. 13, 2021

Study shows promise in repairing damaged myelin, April 18, 2019

New hope for treating a rare genetic disorder, March 29, 2017

Note: this post was updated on Dec. 13, 2022 to provide additional scientific context.

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