ImmusanT Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts has received $20 million in early stage financing to develop its therapy and diagnostic tools for celiac disease. The funds from venture capital firm Vatera Healthcare Partners LLC are expected to support further research and development of the company’s Nexvax2 therapeutics and diagnostics to a proof-of-concept demonstration.
ImmusanT’s Nexvax2 therapeutic vaccine combines three peptides that elicit an immune response in patients with celiac disease who carry the immune recognition gene HLA-DQ2, which includes some 80 percent of patients. Nexvax2 is designed to help celiac disease patients alleviate the toxic effects of gluten, enabling them to return to a normal diet. ImmusanT is also developing a whole-blood functional T-cell test as a standalone diagnostic for celiac disease and a monitoring tool for the therapy.
Celiac disease is a disorder that damages the lining of the small intestine affecting the ability to absorb nutrients properly and can lead to malnutrition. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats.
The company says the safety and tolerabilty of Nexvax2 have been demonstrated in a phase 1 clinical trial. Further trials are planned in 2012.
ImmusanT’s founder and Chief Scientific Officer Bob Anderson (pictured at top) discovered the three peptides responsible for making gluten toxic to people with the disease. Anderson conducted the research underlying the company’s technology while the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Australia, where he now leads research on the immunology of celiac disease and defining the disease-causing components of gluten.
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