Startups

An upstart jumps almost overnight from preclinical to PhI with a $35M Takeda deal and a buyout option

Ingrid Swanson Pultz

Here’s a nontraditional way to set up a biotech company and shoot straight at a buyout.

About six years ago, Ingrid Swanson Pultz advised a group of students at the University of Washington who took on the challenge of using 3D structure protein design tech to develop a new therapy for celiac disease, marked by a severe reaction to gluten.

Starting out with an enzyme that could withstand the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach, they engineered it specifically to go after fragments of gluten that trigger a gut reaction. And they did well, winning a prestigious competition.

But Pultz didn’t stop there.

She continued to work on the enzyme during her postdoc days and then as a faculty member at the Institute for Protein Design at the University of Washington. Grant money was available to go far beyond the usual boundaries that can limit an academic project, she tells me, taking it right up to the clinic. A couple of months ago her therapy — now called KumaMax — was spun out in a startup dubbed PvP Biologics. And today Takeda is announcing that it is putting up $35 million to cover a Phase I proof of concept study, with an option to buy the newly created company for an undisclosed package of fees and milestones.

PvP is a single-asset play with a small team, five people in San Diego, where Adam Simpson is president and CEO. And Swanson remains in Seattle with a team of three.

Guiding them through a lot of this has been their chairman, Tadataka “Tachi” Yamada, a partner at Frazier Healthcare and the former chief medical and scientific officer at Takeda, which has been undergoing a top-to-bottom overhaul over the past year.

Pultz’s work here is just the latest of several examples of academics who are busting through some old barriers and moving new therapies into or close to the clinic. Recently a Vanderbilt team took an Alzheimer’s drug into Phase I. Stanford’s Irv Weissman, using CIRM grants, also went into early stage work with grant money and later started Forty Seven, a cancer drug company. And Harvard’s Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator took a promising preclinical AML program from the lab of Matthew Shair and sold it to Merck for $20 million upfront last spring.

Pultz may do better than any of them, in less time. The Takeda deal puts her new company on a short track to a potential acquisition, and the PvP team will get through Phase I without raising a traditional round from a venture group.


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