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Spin-Off Biotech Formed for Autoimmune Disorders

Diabetes items

(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

2 June 2015. Drug maker Astellas Pharma Inc. in Tokyo and Anokion SA, a biotechnology company in Lausanne, Switzerland, are forming Kanyos Bio Inc., a  spin-off enterprise to develop therapy candidates for autoimmune diseases. The deal could bring Kanyos Bio, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as much as $760 million, as well as an equity investment by Astellas and other investors.

Anokion is itself a spin-off company from the lab of Jeffrey Hubbell at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) , who studies regenerative medicine. Hubbell, also on the faculty at University of Chicago, co-founded Anokion, and is the founder or co-founder of two other companies, Kuros Biosurgery in Zurich, and Focal Inc. in Lexington, Massachusetts, which was acquired by Genzyme in 2001.

Anokion’s technology designs proteins that enlist the body’s natural powers to regulate immune reactions, to help treatments for allergies and autoimmune disorders do their jobs. Autoimmune disorders are conditions where the immune system is tricked into attacking healthy cells and tissue as if they were foreign invaders, like viruses. Likewise, some biologic therapies for allergies and autoimmune conditions can also be misinterpreted and attacked as invaders rather than welcomed as helpers.

The Anokion technology creates engineered proteins that interact with T-cell lymphocytes, white blood cells in the immune system, as if they came from the same body, thus preventing a damaging overreaction. The proteins act as training agents, encouraging the T-cells to accept the incoming therapeutic molecules as native helpers and not as invaders.

Kanyos Bio will apply the Anokion technology to two specific autoimmune disorders, type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, developing therapy candidates through their preclinical stages. Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes, is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and affects about 5 percent of people with diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system erroneously interprets cells producing insulin as foreign, thus attacking the cells. Kanyos plans to develop an engineered protein to train the immune system to accept an individual’s insulin-producing cells, and inhibit only the immune system’s reaction to those cells.

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder where ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect about 1 in 100 people worldwide. Kanyos intends to develop a therapy that inhibits the immune system cells causing damage to the intestine, leaving other immune system actions as is.

The deal calls for Astellas to provide R&D funding and milestone payments to Kanyos, with Astellas holding an option to add a third autoimmune disorder to the Kanyos agenda. Astellas will also have an option to acquire Kanyos after certain, but undisclosed, milestones are achieved. The total value of R&D and milestone payments, and acquisition of Kanyos is valued at $760 million. In addition, Astellas is taking part in a $16 million equity funding round for Kanyos with other Anokion investors.

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