Seattle-based Kineta, New Biotech Startup, Unveils Plan to Trigger Innate Immunity

Xconomy Seattle — 

Two veterans of Illumigen Biosciences, the Seattle-based company that was acquired a year ago by Lexington, MA-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals, have resurfaced in a new biotech venture in Seattle called Kineta.

Shawn Iadonato and Charles Magness co-founded the company to develop new classes of therapies to enhance the innate immune system to fight viral infections and autoimmune diseases. They went to work shortly after Illumigen was sold to Cubist (NASDAQ: CBST) last December. That deal was worth $9 million in upfront cash, plus milestone payments potentially worth $332 million based on success with Illumigen’s hepatitis C drug candidate and other experimental treatments.

Kineta isn’t disclosing who’s backing it, or how much capital it has raised. It does claim to have assembled an impressive team of scientific advisers, including Michael Gale and Michael Katze, a pair of immunology experts at the University of Washington. It also says it has partnerships with Cubist to finish animal tests on a novel hepatitis C drug, and what it calls “substantial development funding” from the National Institutes of Health under the Small Business Innovation Research program. The goal will be to identify conventional small-molecule drugs that stimulate the RIG-I gene pathway, which is thought to trigger native immunity against hepatitis C and other viruses. The Kineta team says it can use its techniques to fight flu, West Nile Virus, Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

“Kineta’s launch is truly great news for Seattle’s biotech cluster,” said Bruce Jackson of enterpriseSeattle, a regional economic development booster organization, in a Kineta statement. “It is extremely important that Seattle’s most successful life sciences entrepreneurs reinvest in our community.”