People, Venture

ImmusanT scores a $40M round for PhII celiac study, with biotech vet Tom Daniel joining the board

Celgene vet Tom Daniel’s role as a partner at Arch Venture will take him to the board at Cambridge, MA-based ImmusanT, a biotech startup that has now raised a $40 million B round from Arch and Vatera. The money is being earmarked to get the biotech’s lead therapy through Phase II, with data expected around the middle of 2019.

The biotech is specializing in creating immune system tolerance to thwart autoimmune diseases. And it’s going after celiac disease as its lead program in a first step toward using the same tech for type 1 diabetes and other ailments.

In celiac disease, the immune system mounts an errant assault on the small intestines whenever patients consume even trace amounts of gluten, a common ingredient in a wide range of foods. For now, the only treatment is an absolutely strict diet, but every accident and attack can damage the intestines, leading to long range health problems.

“Scouring 17,000 peptides, we were able to create a hierarchy of the key components that trigger the T cell response,” says CEO Leslie Williams. “Celiac is a great model for disease because we know the antigen.”

The basic idea here is that their therapeutic vaccine Nexvax2 is designed to gradually instruct the immune system to ignore the red flag.

Says Williams: “When patients are exposed to Nexvax2, they reacted as if they ate the gluten… If we can illicit an immune response, we can modulate it.”

Tom Daniel

Williams founded the company back in 2010, raised seed cash and then a $20 million round from Vatera. Getting an A-list venture group like Arch, and a board member like Daniel — the former head of research at Celgene — is a big plus for the company and its profile. Arch managing director Steven Gillis — a well known immunologist — is also joining the board and lending a hand.

For now, ImmusanT’s 7-member team is in basement digs in Kendall Square, but Williams is planning to double the size of her staff as the company journeys through a mid-stage trial. After that comes through, she’ll be able to look at an expanded set of programs as well as the data to see which direction the company should take. And it’s all on the table: from another round to an IPO or strategic deal.

Image: Leslie Williams. ImmusanT

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