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New Allergy Biotech Launches, Raises $10M

Peanutes in shells


4 Aug. 2020. A new company developing treatments to relieve allergic reactions with reprogrammed antibodies began work and is raising $10 million in its first venture funding round. IgGenix Inc, in South San Francisco, California is adapting research at Stanford University on immunoglobulin E, or IgE, antibodies and their role in triggering an allergic cascade.

Stanford University biomedical engineering professor Stephen Quake, a scientific founder of IgGenix, studies measurement of biological processes down to the level of individual cells, including workings of cells in the immune system. In December 2018, Quake and colleagues reported in the journal Science on B cells in the immune system, cells that produce antibodies, in this case IgE, a less common antibody. IgE antibodies are produced by B cells when the body is infected with certain parasitic worms, but also in some people when reacting to an allergic substance.

When IgEs bind to another type of immune cell, called mast cells, this immune response can start a series of symptoms called an allergic cascade ranging from simple itching to life-threatening anaphylactic shock. In their paper, Quake with Stanford colleagues co-authors Derek Croote and Kari Nadeau isolated and analyzed IgE-producing B cells in six people with peanut allergies. From their analysis, the team produced synthetic antibodies that in the lab suppress IgE antibodies generated by peanut allergens.

Quake, with Croote, Nadeau, and veteran life science entrepreneur Bruce Hironaka founded IgGenix last year to bring these discoveries to market. IgGenix is developing engineered immunoglobulin G or IgG antibodies, the most common antibodies in humans, reprogrammed from IgEs. Most treatments for peanut and other food allergies today aim to desensitize people with allergies and build a greater tolerance for the offending food substance. On the other hand, the company believes its engineered antibodies address underlying causes of allergic reactions, by blocking the process producing an allergic cascade, thus acting as a therapy or a preventative drug.

“In individuals with allergies, specialized B cells produce IgE antibodies that recognize a specific allergen,” says Croote, now IgGenix’s chief technical officer in a company statement. “We know that these IgE antibodies, when bound to mast cells, initiate what can be a life-threatening cascade following even minimal exposure to an allergen. By intervening in the allergic cascade, we believe we have the potential to truly make a difference for patients suffering from severe allergic disease.”

IgGenix is raising $10 million in its first venture financing round, led by technology industry investor Khosla Ventures in Menlo Park, California, with Parker Ventures joining the round. Hironaka is the company’s CEO, with Quake and Nadeau serving as scientific advisers, and Quake joining the company’s board.

“To date,” notes Hironaka, “while the awareness of severe food allergies is increasing, there remains a critical need for therapeutics that effectively block and even prevent life-threatening allergic reactions. We believe that through our novel antibody selection and engineering approach, we have the potential to improve the lives of millions of allergy sufferers.”

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