Shares in Galapagos have soared after the Belgium-based biotechnology group announced the discovery of a human drug target that it claims plays a key role in Alzheimer's disease.

The Mechelen-based group noted that this breakthrough, which has been published in the journal Science, is the result of the collaboration between Galapagos and an academic group led by Bart De Strooper at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology VIB and the KU Leuven in Belgium. It deals with the G protein-coupled receptor 3 (GPR3) gene, which was identified in human cells using Galapagos' platform.

The researchers found that inhibition of GPR3 prevented the accumulation of beta-amyloid, the protein in the brains of Alzheimer's patients that is believed to cause the disease. The Science article shows that GPR3 levels are higher in the areas of the brain that are affected in Alzheimer's patients and its activity “can likely be inhibited with a small molecule drug”.

Galapagos chief executive Onno van de Stolpe said that there is a lack of drug targets in this field, and the firm is “excited that we can now share these data with the scientific community”. He added that the company is now starting drug discovery with the aim to deliver a candidate.

Galapagos was recently awarded a US patent for the use of GPR3 in screening for Alzheimer's drugs and similar applications are pending in Europe and other major territories. The company added that it plans to enter into discussions “with potential pharmaceutical partners”.