About six months after the FDA approved the first treatment for peanut allergy, a new biotech, IgGenix, has raised $10 million to discover antibodies that could address that and other common allergies.
The six-person startup, which is based out of the Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) JLABS incubator in South San Francisco, raised the Series A cash in a financing round led by Khosla Ventures with participation from Parker Ventures.
IgGenix is taking a very different tack from the one that led the FDA to approve the Brisbane, CA-based Aimmune (NASDAQ: AIMT) drug, Palforzia. That oral immunotherapy delivers precise amounts of peanut flour intended to be sprinkled over food; taken over time, the capsules of proteins are intended to desensitize patients, reducing the severity of an allergic reaction to accidental peanut exposure.
IgGenix instead aims to go further than Aimmune. It’s finding those allergen-specific antibodies and re-engineering them so they reduce an immune overreaction in cases of accidental exposure to an allergen. An IgGenix therapy would be an injectable antibody drug, a different approach than the one taken by yet another food allergy biotech, DBV Technologies (NASDAQ: DBVT). On Tuesday, the FDA rejected a skin patch that the France-based company designed to deliver small amounts of peanut protein intended to reduce sensitivity to peanut allergy.
IgGenix was formed in 2019 around research conducted at the Stanford University lab of company co-founder Steve Quake, which led to the identification of single B cells that produce allergen-specific IgE proteins. That research was published in December 2018 in the journal Science. Derek Croote, a company co-founder that Tuesday was named its chief technology officer, was the paper’s lead author.
“I think it’s great that someone like Aimmune has gotten approval for a product—we think that will help some people—but we’re also pretty confident that it will not solve the issues facing the millions of people who have food allergies, both kids and adults,” IgGenix CEO Bruce Hironaka (pictured above) told Xconomy. “We think we’re one of the few approaches that are ongoing, as far as we know, that are trying to address the underlying mechanism of action, with the allergic reaction that occurs in people, by trying to block it with an antibody or interfere with it with an antibody.”
Although it is still early days for the startup, Hironaka says he envisions it one day producing a drug that people with allergies—to food as well as other substances—can administer periodically via self-injection.
Aimmune, too, has identified the potential of an antibody approach. The company has licensed an experimental treatment from Xencor (NASDAQ: XNCR), which initially developed it for allergic asthma, designed to reduce the production of IgE antibodies as well as the cells that produce them. The company aims to move that investigational drug into the clinic in the first half of next year.
IgGenix’s financing should buy it a couple years’ time to identify antibodies with the potential to act as therapeutics for a number of allergies, both food and other substances, Hironaka says. In addition to financing its drug discovery efforts, the funds will go toward hiring his successor, the search for whom is underway.
“When I accept the startup CEO role, one of my major objectives is to find my successor to take the company to the next level,” said Hironaka, who says he’s at the stage in his career where as chief executive he is most interested in helping to establish an emerging company’s initial strategy and infrastructure. “It’s a model that has worked well hopefully for the companies and also for me personally.”
Among the roles Hironaka has held in recent years was founding CEO of Agenovir, a gene editing company that spun out of JLABS in 2016 with $10.6 million. Agenovir, which was also founded around work conducted by Quake, was acquired in 2018 by Vir Biotechnology (NASDAQ: VIR).
Hironaka and Croote launched IgGenix last year along with scientific founders Quake and immunologist Kari Nadeau, who heads the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford. IgGenix on Tuesday also announced the appointment of Richard Boismenu, who was most recently head of product development at Coherus Biosciences (NASDAQ: CHRS), as its chief scientific officer.