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Autoimmune Therapy Developer Raises $23M in Early Funds

Hands with arthritis (NIH)

(National Institutes of Health)

18 December 2014. Padlock Therapeutics, a biotechnology company creating treatments for diseases where the immune system attacks the body, gained $23 million in its first venture funding round. Financing for the Cambridge, Massachusetts enterprise was led by Atlas Venture, with participation from Index Ventures, MS Ventures, and Johnson & Johnson Development Corporation, the company’s venture division. MS Ventures is the venture arm of pharmaceutical company Merck.

Padlock specializes in medicines for autoimmune disorders, diseases where the body’s immune system is tricked into attacking healthy cells rather than invading bacteria or viruses. Among the better known autoimmune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and lupus. Women have a higher risk for autoimmune diseases, which are often characterized by inflammation, resulting in swelling and pain.

The company’s technology is designed to address a set of proteins known as protein-arginine deiminase or Pad enzymes. These 5 enzymes are believed to instigate a chemical process called citrullination that removes a positive charge from the surface of proteins, which can affect their structure and functions. In some people, citrullinated proteins are perceived by the immune system in a similar way as invading pathogens, triggering a response from the immune system. Thus, Pad enzymes are considered to play a key role in producing autoantigens, substances provoking the immune responses characteristic of autoimmune diseases.

Padlock’s technology is based on research on Pad enzymes at Scripps Research Institute by Kerri Mowen and Paul Thompson, now at University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mowen and Thompson are scientific founders of Padlock. The company was founded in January 2014 by Atlas Venture, with Mowen, Thompson, and CEO Michael Gilman, and incubated at Atlas Venture as part of its seed program.

The company plans to use the financing proceeds to further its understanding of Pad enzymes in autoimmune diseases. Padlock intends to discover therapies inhibiting activity of Pad enzymes implicated in rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, although the enzymes act differently in each of the three disorders. The founders believe the company’s approach, to inhibit production of autoantibodies, sets it apart from other therapies that suppress immune system activity.

Atlas Venture, also in Cambridge, is an early stage venture capital company specializing in life science and technology start-ups. Atlas produced 9 separate funds since its founding in 1980, backing some 350 enterprises in 16 countries.

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