BIO Investor Forum Roundup: Immune Design, Sorbent Therapeutics, Epizyme

Xconomy National — 

The best thing about coming to the BIO Investor Forum in San Francisco every year is the schmoozing with folks from all over the country in one place. The worst thing? There’s not much in the way of breaking news.

Oh well, sometimes you gotta do the spade work on a slow news day if you want to be ready on a big news day. This is one of those times. The BIO Investor Forum attracts an odd mix of some little companies hardly anybody has heard of, some promising startups, a few public companies I would like to forget, and a decent smattering of investors and business development types all trying to figure out the next shrewd thing to buy.

While there might not have been much earth-shattering news from BIO Investor Forum yesterday, I did sit in on a few sessions with companies from around Xconomy’s 6-city network. Here are some of the highlights from a few companies that I monitored in and around the conference.

Immune Design, a vaccine developer in Seattle, let it be known in the vaguest terms that it has formed a new research collaboration with Sanofi to study one of its existing compounds as a treatment for allergies. That is a bit of news, although CEO Carlos Paya emphasized a research collaboration, which I took as one way of saying “not much money.”

Still, Immune Design attracted a small but pretty engaged audience at this conference. The company has raised $50 million from ProQuest Investments, Alta Partners, The Column Group, and Versant Ventures. It has one partnership with MedImmune to supply it with a vaccine-boosting compound known as an adjuvant. MedImmune obtained the right to use the adjuvant in experimental vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Epstein-Barr virus, and cytomegalovirus (CMV) infections

The adjuvants that Immune Design is developing are synthetic compounds that are supposed to be 10-100 times more potent than the natural-product derived MPL adjuvant that GlaxoSmithKline currently uses to amp up its human papillomavirus vaccine (Cervarix), Paya says. Immune Design co-founder Steve Reed and his team at Seattle-based Corixa developed the earlier-generation adjuvant, and now have set out at the new company to create adjuvants that improve on the old ones. Namely, the new adjuvant is supposed to be cheaper, more reproducible, and easier to manufacture at commercial scale.

The new compound is supposed to specifically stimulate a target known as the TLR4 receptor, which sets off an immune reaction that the company thinks could be useful in different settings for triggering an immune reaction against herpes simplex-2 infections—the cause of genital herpes—and cancer.

“This one (GLA) is a synthetic molecule that offers straightforward manufacturing, and stability,” Paya said in his presentation.

Immune Design has run a variety of early clinical trials that have exposed about 300 patients to the new synthetic adjuvant, Paya said.

—Sunnyvale, CA-based Sorbent Therapeutics provided a few more bits of information beyond what I reported in a feature in these pages last July. Sorbent made news earlier … Next Page »

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