Bruce Hironaka, IgGenix CEO

IgGenix emerges from stealth with $10 mil­lion Se­ries A hop­ing to re-en­gi­neer al­ler­gic cas­cade

A lit­tle over six months af­ter the FDA ap­proved the first treat­ment for peanut al­ler­gies, a new biotech has emerged hop­ing to break through in a field that’s seen vir­tu­al­ly no in­no­va­tion.

IgGenix came out of stealth mode Tues­day morn­ing, an­nounc­ing a $10 mil­lion Se­ries A round to get the com­pa­ny start­ed. The Cal­i­for­nia-based biotech aims to fo­cus not just on peanuts, but all types of food al­ler­gies and re­lat­ed se­ri­ous con­di­tions by de­vel­op­ing a plat­form that can in­ter­fere with the al­ler­gic cas­cade. Fi­nanc­ing was led by Khosla Ven­tures and joined by Park­er Ven­tures.

When an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion oc­curs, the body pro­duces an ex­ces­sive amount of al­ler­gen-spe­cif­ic an­ti­bod­ies called im­munoglob­u­lin E, or IgE. This over­re­ac­tion by the im­mune sys­tem leads to the al­ler­gic cas­cade, which can man­i­fest in symp­toms rang­ing from mild itch­ing and swelling to full-blown ana­phy­lac­tic shock.

What IgGenix hopes to do is re-en­gi­neer the IgE an­ti­bod­ies, iso­lat­ing and trans­form­ing them in­to IgG an­ti­bod­ies that are de­signed to al­le­vi­ate and pos­si­bly pre­vent the al­ler­gic cas­cade. While the com­pa­ny is still yet to reach the clin­ic, CEO Bruce Hi­ron­a­ka said, IgGenix hopes to pro­duce a treat­ment that looks like a self-in­jectable project ad­min­is­tered pe­ri­od­i­cal­ly, sim­i­lar to an al­ler­gy shot.

“We don’t know yet how of­ten it would need to be done, but the hope is that the ther­a­py could be some­thing that peo­ple in the al­ler­gy space have ex­pe­ri­ence with be­fore,” Hi­ron­a­ka told End­points News. “Hope­ful­ly we won’t be do­ing our in­jec­tions as of­ten as al­ler­gy shots, but that’s to be de­ter­mined.”

That con­cept dif­fers from Aim­mune’s oral peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py Pal­forzia, which won FDA ap­proval back in Jan­u­ary and ad­min­is­ters es­ca­lat­ing dos­es of a peanut pro­tein to chil­dren to help build re­sis­tance. Hi­ron­a­ka said he was glad to see some al­ler­gy treat­ment fi­nal­ly re­ceive the green light, but as­sert­ed that IgGenix is one of the few, if not on­ly, com­pa­nies ad­dress­ing the un­der­ly­ing mech­a­nism of al­ler­gies.

Kari Nadeau

The sci­en­tif­ic team at IgGenix is all in­cred­i­bly pas­sion­ate about al­ler­gies as well, Hi­ron­a­ka said, as it’s a per­son­al is­sue for every­one. Sci­en­tif­ic co-founder Stephen Quake, a pro­fes­sor of bio­engi­neer­ing and ap­plied physics at Stan­ford, has a daugh­ter with se­vere al­ler­gies. Chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer Derek Croote has a dairy al­ler­gy. And Kari Nadeau, the oth­er sci­en­tif­ic co-founder, is a world-renowned al­ler­gist.

Hi­ron­a­ka’s old­er daugh­ter al­so suf­fers from se­vere peanut al­ler­gies, and he re­count­ed a tale from when they were do­ing col­lege tours and was ac­ci­den­tal­ly served food with traces of the al­ler­gen.

“Watch­ing her grow up, hav­ing to be wor­ried about in­gest­ing a peanut or some oth­er al­ler­gen for her, is not just a ma­jor bur­den on her but ob­vi­ous­ly her par­ents wor­ry quite a bit about that,” Hi­ron­a­ka said. “Un­for­tu­nate­ly the wait staff was not to­tal­ly up to date on the menu … she calm­ly put her­self on the floor of the restau­rant and in­ject­ed her­self with her EpiPen.”

For now, IgGenix will fo­cus on ex­pand­ing and “de-risk­ing” the plat­form tech­nol­o­gy and start to build pre­clin­i­cal can­di­dates for food and non-food al­ler­gies. Hi­ron­a­ka al­so said the com­pa­ny is look­ing for some­one to suc­ceed him as CEO, giv­en that he’s at a stage in his ca­reer where he’s not look­ing for any­thing long-term.

And though Hi­ron­a­ka said it would be “ir­re­spon­si­ble” to say IgGenix can ul­ti­mate­ly de­vel­op a cure for al­ler­gies, the team is en­ticed by the prospect.

“We don’t know yet,” Hi­ron­a­ka said. “We do have dis­cus­sions about our ap­proach be­ing po­ten­tial­ly pro­phy­lac­tic, but I think we need more da­ta to re­al­ly be able to start think­ing we can go as far as be­ing a cure to one or more food al­ler­gy types. Ob­vi­ous­ly, we’d love to be able to get there.”

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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FDA au­tho­rizes Pfiz­er's vac­cine boost­er for se­niors, those at high risk for se­vere Covid-19

The Biden administration’s goal of kicking off its booster shot drive for the entire US population this week is not quite going as planned.

First, Pfizer applied for approval of a supplemental application for the booster shots, but since last Friday’s adcomm reviewing them, the plan has devolved into an EUA, which the FDA issued late Thursday evening.

The population that is now eligible for the booster, six months after receiving the first pair of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, also narrowed from what Pfizer applied for (everyone who’s eligible for the initial Pfizer shots) to just those who are 65 or older, or at high-risk of a Covid infection, including health care workers and others with occupational hazards.

Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Fi­nal analy­sis of US-fund­ed Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine tri­al shows 98% ef­fi­ca­cy against se­vere dis­ease

A final look at the results of the placebo-controlled Moderna trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, published Thursday afternoon, shows how the vaccine continues to prevent Covid-19 and severe cases after more than five months following the second shot.

Of the more than 30,000 enrolled in the trial that ultimately led to the vaccine’s EUA, only two people in the vaccine group got a severe form of the disease, compared to 106 in the placebo group — leading to an efficacy of 98%.

Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Credit: Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

The fire un­der Glax­o­SmithK­line's Em­ma Walm­s­ley grows as an­oth­er well-known ac­tivist in­vestor grabs its pitch­fork — re­port

Bluebell Capital Partners, a proxy brawler fresh off a campaign to oust global food giant Danone’s CEO and most of its board of directors, has bought a stake in UK drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline with its eyes trained directly on Emma Walmsley, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

The London-based hedge fund joins another notorious activist firm in Paul Singer’s Elliott Management, which earlier this year called for a shakeup in leadership at GSK to handle what the company described as a wealth of riches across the drug giant’s portfolio hindered by limited vision from top staff.

Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.