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Diabetes Foundation, Lilly Invest in Protein Biotech

Diabetes word cloud

(905513, Pixabay)

5 Nov. 2020. A biotechnology company creating synthetic sensing proteins received equity investments to support work on its variable-release insulin for people with type 1 diabetes. Dollar amounts of the investments in Protomer Technologies Inc. in Pasadena, California by the JDRF T1D Fund, managed by JDRF, a type 1 diabetes research and advocacy organization, and drug maker Eli Lilly and Co. were not disclosed.

Protomer Technologies develops synthetic biologic drugs that sense activating molecules and react to emit therapeutic proteins where needed and in the required quantities. Protomer says its platform, called molecular engineering of protein sensors or MEPS, can produce engineered proteins and peptides — short chains of amino acids — tuned to switch on or off in the presence of activating molecules, to better fit each person’s unique biology and need for treatment. The company says MEPS also provides for more targeted treatments, thus reducing off-target side effects.

Protomer’s lead product is a responsive insulin that reacts to glucose levels in people with diabetes, a chronic disorder where the pancreas does not create enough insulin to process the sugar glucose to flow into the blood stream. People with type 1 diabetes have an inherited autoimmune disorder where beta or islet cells in the pancreas do not produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes is diagnosed primarily in children or young adults, where the immune system is tricked into attacking healthy cells and tissue, in this case, insulin-producing islet cells.

The company says its glucose-responsive insulin automatically adjusts its production activity throughout the day. The responsive insulin senses glucose levels, turns on release of insulin when needed, and turns off when reaching normal glucose concentrations. Protomer Technologies is also developing a sense-responsive glucagon, a hormone produced in the pancreas that works with insulin to keep blood glucose levels in a safe range. The responsive glucagon is designed to automatically activate when a sudden drop in glucose occurs to prevent hypoglycemia.

The JDRF T1D Fund is JDRF’s venture philanthropy arm making equity investments in technologies to prevent, treat, or cure type 1 diabetes. Much of the fund’s investments are made with private capital to advance therapeutics, devices, diagnostics, and vaccines. In this case, the Protomer Technologies investment is led by Eli Lilly, a producer of diabetes drugs, with the JDRF T1D Fund taking part.

Katie Ellias, managing director of JDRF T1D Fund, says in a fund statement, “Protomer’s novel mechanism for glucose-responsive insulin is extremely promising and has the potential to be a game-changer for people with type 1 diabetes.” Alborz Mahdavi, Protomer Technologies’ founder and CEO adds, “This round of financing positions us to advance our insulin program and the MEPS platform with support from Lilly and JDRF T1D Fund.”

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