Artizan completes microbiome starter package with Brii deal, CSO hire and some money to dash for the clinic
Three years after giving a synopsis of its microbiome play with some seed funding from Malin and Hatteras Venture Partners, Artizan is raising the curtain on their first act in inflammatory bowel disease.
Armed with $12 million in total Series A cash, a partnership with China’ Brii Bio and a new CSO hire, the New Haven, CT-based biotech is ready to hunker down for some preclinical work. Meanwhile, CEO James Rosen tells me he will be getting to work raising a Series B intended to fund clinical operations.
Yale immunobiology professor Richard Flavell and two collaborators pioneered a new way to identify disease-causing bacteria by scanning for an antibody coating called immunoglobin A (IgA). That was 2014.
“The coating is our body’s attempt to neutralize the bacteria,” Flavell said in 2014. “It binds to the bad bacteria. We only make these IgA responses to a limited number of organisms.”
It’s a more efficient approach than the traditional method of screening for harmful bacteria, which typically involves comparing vast amounts of sequencing data between healthy and sick individuals.
Zeroing on the microbes to target, though, is only the first step. Artizan is looking into a number of ways to get rid of them, from small molecules and antibodies to a therapeutic vaccine that could help the immune system mount a more potent attack.
Unlike some well-known players in the microbiome field such as Seres and Finch, “we’re very specifically not bugs as drugs,” Rosen said.
That opens up a broad range of potential applications for Artizan’s platform, he said, as manifested in Brii’s decision to collaborate on up to three programs. Brii — a $260 million power biotech play spearheaded by GSK vet Zhi Hong — will pick up China development and commercialization once Artizan produces proof-of-concept in the next couple of years.
The deal comes with an undisclosed set of upfront, milestone and royalty payments in addition to a venture investment, placing Brii in a syndicate that includes Johnson & Johnson Development Innovation – JJDC, Osage University Partners and Elm Street Ventures.
Coordinating the whole research effort from discovery to drug development and joining the 11-person team would be Paul Miller, the new chief scientific officer. Miller, a seasoned exec groomed in AstraZeneca and Pfizer, jumps from Synlogic, which specializes in reengineering bacteria into therapeutics.
“It’s an exciting time to join Artizan’s efforts to address the unmet treatment need in IBD, a disease that affects more than 1.6 million Americans,” Miller said in a statement.