Taligen Therapeutics wants to apply its technology platform to treat rare diseases in which the immune system goes haywire and attacks healthy cells. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech startup says it has received $10 million from its investors to drive its first drug toward initial human studies against a rare autoimmune disease.
The new funding brings the total amount of the firm’s Series B funding round to $36 million. The latest $10 million installment came from Taligen’s previous investors Alta Partners, Clarus Ventures, High Country Venture, and Sanderling Ventures, according to the company. The first closing of the second-round financing was revealed in February 2008, when the company said investors committed to put in as much as $65 million in separate chunks if the firm met certain development goals.
Taligen CEO Abbie Celniker says the company got the money because it made it made “substantial progress” over the past year that enabled it to advance close to its first clinical trial.
The company, founded in 2004 with technology from the University of Colorado, has been developing protein drugs that target an immune reaction called the complement pathway. Its lead drug, TT30, prevents overactive complement reactions in certain diseases by replacing defective proteins. While the drug has the potential to treat a number of immune and inflammatory diseases, the company has decided to focus initially on rare diseases where there’s less competition such as atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS), which affects one in 500,000 Americans, and paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH).
A potential advantage of Taligen’s drugs over existing treatments is that they aim to treat the specific tissues where destructive inflammation occurs, Celniker says. Blood transfusions are a standard treatment for aHUS, a blood disease that causes blood clots in the kidneys due to inflammation. The transfusions temporarily replenish patients with healthy blood cells, but Taligen’s protein drug aims to prevent the aberrant complement system activities that cause damage to the blood cells in the first place.
For patients with PNH, who also get blood transfusions, cortico steroids have also been used to suppress immune activities that cause the destruction of red blood cells. The downside is that reducing the body’s immune activities broadly like steroids do can hurt the body’s ability to fight off infections. Taligen’s big competition in the PNH market would be Cheshire, CT-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALXN), which makes an antibody drug called eculizumab (Soliris) that protects red blood cells from the immune system attacks that the disease causes. Yet Celniker says that a potential advantage of her firm’s drugs is better control over the destruction of red blood cells.
Taligen expects to begin Phase I clinical studies of the drug for the rare diseases before the end of the year, Celniker says. The company wants to find pharmaceutical partners to develop its drug for disease that affect larger groups of patients such as age-related macular degeneration, she said. Since we last talked to the firm back in 2008, it closed its R&D operation in Colorado, and consolidated its labs and offices mostly under one roof in Cambridge. The firm’s chief scientist and co-founder, Michael Holers, still has an office in Denver, Celniker said.