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Immune Therapeutics Start-Up Raises $37.5M in Early Funding

Jeffrey Hubbell

Jeffrey Hubbell (Anokion SA)

6 May 2014. Anokion SA in Lausanne, Switzerland, a start-up enterprise developing therapies to treat immune systems disorders, raised 33 million Swiss francs ($US 37.5 million) in its first venture financing round. The round was led by Novartis Venture Fund, and two life-science investment companies — Novo Ventures and Versant Ventures — with participation from undisclosed private investors.

Anokion is a spin-off company from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, co-founded by Jeffrey Hubbell, whose lab conducts research in regenerative medicine and biomaterials for drug delivery. Hubbell is also a professor of molecular engineering at University of Chicago, and 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.

The technology in development by Anokion 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 aims to create 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.

Hubbell, with Anokion co-founder Stephan Kontos and other EPFL colleagues, published their proof-of-concept findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2012. Hubbell serves as the company’s chief scientist and Kontos is research director. Anokion is the sole licensee of the technology from EPFL.

The company says the technology has been tested with lab mice and shown it can prevent type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition, but can be applied as well to diseases other than allergies and autoimmune disorders. Other tests show the engineered proteins can attach to asparaginase, a protein drug derived from E. coli bacteria to treat a form of leukemia, and prevent an immune response in lab mice. The first clinical trials are expected in 2017.

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