– SWITZERLAND, Lausanne – Anokion SA announced today that it has successfully closed a Series A financing round for CHF 33 million ($37.5 million). A group of leading life sciences venture capitalists, consisting of Novartis Venture Fund, Novo Ventures and Versant Ventures, co-led the financing with additional participation by private investors.
The spin-off from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) has developed a technology for retraining white blood cells to induce therapeutic immune tolerance. Anokion will use the funds to develop clinical candidates in the areas of immune-masked protein therapeutics, autoimmune and allergic diseases. First clinical trials are planned for 2017.
Following the closure of the financing round, Florent Gros (Managing Director of Novartis Venture Fund), Jack Nielsen (Partner at Novo Ventures), and Tom Woiwode (Managing Director at Versant Ventures) joined the Board of Directors. In addition, André J. Mueller and Harry Welten joined the Board as Independent Directors. Jens Kurth, who most recently directed Novartis’ key biologics projects, joins the management team as Chief Technology Officer. Jens has an extensive track record in the pharmaceutical industry in driving the development, regulatory approval, and commercialization of new drugs.
Jeff Hubbell, Professor and founder of the Institute of Bioengineering at the EPFL, Professor at the Institute of Molecular Engineering at the University of Chicago, and academic founder of Anokion, commented: “We are delighted that leading biotech venture funds have recognised the value and potential of our antigen-specific immune tolerance technology. We now have the necessary financial means to develop promising product candidates.” Jeff will also serve as a member of the Board of Directors. He added: “We look forward to working with the new members in the Board of Directors and management team. They complement the strong scientific backbone of Anokion and bring proven business expertise as well as a strong industry network into our company.“
About the antigen-specific immune tolerance technology
Anokion is applying its antigen-specific immune tolerance technology to reduce the immunogenicity of therapeutic proteins and to treat autoimmune and allergic diseases. The technology harnesses the power of natural immune regulation by engineering proteins to be perceived as ‘self’ entities. Many therapeutic protein drugs are perceived by the body as ‘foreign’ entities and are hence targeted for attack and clearance by the immune system. As a consequence, such treatments may become ineffective and potentially dangerous. Anokion’s technology provides a means to reduce immunogenicity of existing therapeutics and to enable development of proteins previously thought to be too immunogenic for repeated use.
Similarly, autoimmune diseases are caused by recognition of self proteins as foreign by a patient’s immune system. This recognition triggers pathologic destruction of disease-affected tissues. Anokion will use its technology to retrain the immune system and restore tolerance to the relevant self proteins.
The company has already demonstrated the efficacy of its technology by creating a tolerogenic form of asparaginase, a protein drug from E. coli used to treat a form of leukemia. When modified with Anokion’s technology, this foreign protein was not attacked by the immune system in mouse models. The company has also demonstrated the complete prevention of pathology in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes. Anokion is an exclusive licensee of EPFL’s patent filings covering this technology.
Anokion, a spin-off from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), is focused on applying the company’s antigen-specific immune tolerance technology to reduce the immunogenicity of therapeutic proteins and to treat autoimmune and allergic diseases. As a platform technology, Anokion’s approach to antigen-specific tolerance can be translated to virtually any protein in numerous clinical indications.
About Novartis Venture Fund
The Novartis Venture Fund (NVF) manages over $850 million in committed capital. NVF invests in companies which have the potential to change a core therapeutic field or explore new business areas that will be critical to patient care. NVF’s primary interest is in the development of novel therapeutics and platforms as well as medical devices, diagnostics, and delivery systems. The Funds invest for financial objectives at all stages, but prefers to invest in the early-stages of company development. With ten investment professionals located in Basel, Switzerland and Cambridge, MA the team has extensive experience in pharmaceutical R&D and venture capital.
About Novo A/S
Novo A/S is a private limited liability company fully owned by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. Besides being the majority shareholder in Novo Nordisk A/S and Novozymes A/S, Novo A/S provides seed, venture and growth capital to development stage companies within life science and biotechnology, as well as manages a broad portfolio of financial assets.
About Versant Ventures
Versant Ventures is a leading venture capital firm that specializes in investments in innovative biopharmaceuticals, medical devices and other life science opportunities. Founded in 1999, the firm consists of an experienced team of managing directors committed to helping entrepreneurs build successful companies that impact healthcare and improve quality of life. The firm’s successful IPOs include Clovis Oncology, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Genomic Health, Insulet and Kythera. M&A exits include Amira, LenSX, Acclarent, Cameron Health, Ablation Frontiers and Okairos. In addition to an industry-leading biotech-focused team in Basel, Switzerland, Versant is present in San Francisco and two locations in Canada.
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