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Nanoparticle Therapy Start-Up Gains $4M in Early Funds

Human T-cell lymphocyte

Scanning electron micrograph of a human immune system T-cell lymphocyte (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH)

8 September 2016. A start-up enterprise developing treatments for autoimmune disorders using protein-laden nanoparticles is raising $4 million in its first venture funding round. AnTolRx Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a spin-off company from the lab of neurologist Francisco Quintana at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School that began in 2015.

Quintana’s research studies diseases of the immune system, such as autoimmune disorders where the body erroneously attacks healthy cells or tissue, particularly signaling pathways controlling immune responses. The lab’s work led to development of a technology harnessing proteins called aryl hydrocarbon receptors that encourage tolerance of antigens, other proteins or peptides that otherwise would generate an unwanted reaction with T-cells in the immune system. Those discoveries were refined and enhanced to the point of packaging antigens and tolerance protein molecules into nanoscale particles as treatments for autoimmune disorders.

Among the most common autoimmune diseases is type 1 diabetes, where the immune system attacks and prevents beta cells in the pancreas from producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 percent of all individuals with diabetes. In a study published in June 2016 in the journal Science Signaling, Quintana and colleagues show nanoparticles with unprocessed insulin and tolerance protein molecules can dampen the immune response and reduce the disease severity in mice induced with type 1 diabetes.

Quintana is the scientific founder of AnTolRx Inc., which licenses his discoveries and is developing therapies first for type 1 diabetes, and eventually for other autoimmune disorders. Drug maker Pfizer Inc. led the AnTolRx’s $4 million financing round and has an exclusive option to the intellectual property rights, should a candidate treatment be developed and meet certain milestones.

Other participants in the funding round are Orion Equity Partners, a life sciences and health care venture capital company and JDRF, a research foundation and advocacy organization for type 1 diabetes. Mark McCarthy, co-founder of Orion is also co-founder of AnTolRx, and serving as the company’s CEO. JDRF is a funder of Quintana’s earlier academic research.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Pfizer Inc.

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