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.
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.”