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Allergy Immunotherapy Firm Raises $2M in Early Funds


Pollen (Wikimedia Commons)

25 January 2017. A biotechnology company in Finland developing an allergy vaccine that harnesses the immune system is raising €1.85 million ($US 2 million) in its first venture funding round. Desentum in Espoo is a spin-off enterprise from VTT Technical Research Center and University of Eastern Finland, where the research underlying the company’s technology was conducted.

Desentum is creating a new way of treating allergies, which are disorders of the immune system that react to substances considered harmless to most people, like pollen or some foods, by producing antibodies to fight the mistaken invaders. Those antibody-generated reactions can cause symptoms such as inflammation in skin, sinuses, airways, or the digestive system. For some people, allergic reactions can be life-threatening when severe anaphylaxis occurs, resulting in low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness.

Most current allergy drugs address the symptoms caused by the immune reactions, but Desentum is taking a different approach, with a vaccine that quickly trains the immune system to tolerate the offending substances. Allergic reactions are triggered by immunoglobulin E, or IgE, antibodies programmed to connect to white blood cells called mast cells that regulate immune reactions.

Desentum says its technology uses synthetic hypoallergens, with low doses of proteins resembling the offending substances. Instead of generating IgE antibodies, hypoallergens induce production of an antibody known as immunoglobulin G, or IgG, the most common type of antibody, which in this case immobilizes and helps destroy allergens. The alternative reaction is designed to train the immune system to react differently to offending substances, with IgG instead of IgE antibodies causing inflammation.

This vaccine approach, says Desentum, is different from other immunotherapies on the market for allergies that block connections between IgE antibodies and mast cells, which can take years to be fully effective. With Desentum’s vaccine, the immune system remembers to respond with IgG antibodies the next time it encounters offending allergens, faster than current allergy immunotherapies.

Investors in Desentum’s first new venture financing round include Belgian Cascara Ventures, Luxembourgian ACME Investments, Finnish VTT Ventures, and Sto-Rahoitus, as well as the founding shareholders. CEO Pekka Mattila says in a company statement, “The capital raised now will help Desentum to move forward towards first stage clinical trials.” Those clinical trials are expected to begin later in 2017.

Desentum was founded in 2011 by several scientists at VTT Technical Research Center and University of Eastern Finland to commercialize the technology they invented. In 2013, that technology received the the European Association of Research and Technology Organisation’s Innovation Prize.

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