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Immune Disease Start-Up Raises $28M in Early Funds

Vaccine syringe


26 June 2107. A new company founded to develop treatments for diseases caused by problems with the immune system is raising $28.4 million in its first round of financing. Provention Bio Inc. in Lebanon, New Jersey plans to address autoimmune disorders, where the immune system is tricked into attacking healthy cells and tissue, either by preventing the diseases or with early-stage treatments before serious symptoms emerge.

Provention Bio began last year, started by Francisco Leon, an immunologist and founder of several biotechnology and drug discovery companies, and Ashleigh Palmer, a venture investor and also a founder of multiple life sciences enterprises. The company obtains the rights to promising drug candidates designed to prevent the onset of autoimmune diseases — such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis — or treat the disorders early in their progression before symptoms become more serious, or prevent their relapse in cases where the disease is already taking hold.

Provention says its first discoveries are licensed from Janssen Research & Development, a division of drug maker Johnson & Johnson, and Vactech Oy, a biotechnology company in Tampere, Finland. Vactech is developing a vaccine to prevent type 1 diabetes, an inherited disorder where the immune system attacks insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, and is diagnosed primarily in children or young adults. The vaccine is designed to prevent infections from enteroviruses, a type of virus responsible for a wide range of diseases, but also suspected of being a triggering mechanism in type 1 diabetes. Vactech says preclinical tests suggest its vaccine could prevent as many as half of all type 1 diabetes cases.

Leon and Palmer are also founders of the CelImmune, a biopharmaceutical company developing treatments for celiac disease, also an inherited disorder. As reported in Science & Enterprise, CelImmune is conducting a clinical trial of a therapy for advanced cases of celiac disease that do not respond to a gluten-free diet.

MDB Capital Group in Dallas is a co-founder of Provention Bio as well as leading the funding round. Taking part in the financing are Johnson & Johnson Innovation and the investment arm of JDRF, a foundation raising money and awareness to support research on type 1 diabetes. JDRF is collaborating with Janssen Research & Development on developing early stage treatments for type 1 diabetes. Janssen R&D has a division called its Disease Interception Accelerator addressing conditions in their early stages, including type 1 diabetes.

MDB Capital completed the $28.4 million fund-raising in April 2017, through sales of preferred shares of Provention stock that have a higher claim on assets and earnings than common stock. An initial public offering of Provention common stock is expected next year.

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Disclosure: The author owns shares in Johnson & Johnson.

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