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asthma. Mike Ross, a venture capitalist who invested in NKT on behalf of his firm SV Life Sciences, says that there are limits on the allowed dosage and effectiveness of one drug on the market for severe asthma,omalizumab (Xolair).That creates an opportunity to develop a superior treatment. Xolair, which marketed by South San Francisco-based biotech powerhouse Genentech (now owned by Roche) and Swiss drug giant Novartis, generated 2008 sales of $728 million between the two companies.
Mashal says that NKT’s treatment for moderate to severe asthma could gain acceptance among regulators, however, if the drug shows better effectiveness in reducing symptoms than existing drugs and provides improved safety for patients with the respiratory ailment. There also appears to be few competitors in the NKT field. Other firms focused on NKT cell biology include Innate Immune, a biotech startup with technology from Stanford University, and Immunox Therapeutics. There was little information I could glean on either of the two competitors on the Web, but what I did find indicates that Innate Immune is interested in treating asthma too.
NKT Therapeutics offers a big enough market opportunity to garner funding from SV Life Sciences, which was joined by British drug-maker AstraZeneca’s biotech venture group MedImmune Ventures in the startup’s first round of financing. Ross tells me that SV makes fewer investments in young startups based on bold biological discoveries than in more mature life sciences companies with products in clinical trials. “This is starting a bit earlier” for our firm, Ross says, “but that’s because we think the biology is so exciting.”
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