Novartis ties up with the virtual biotech Parvus to try a new approach on Type 1 diabetes
Novartis has turned to a small, virtual biotech in Canada for some fresh inspiration on how it might one day defeat Type 1 diabetes.
The pharma giant’s Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research now has the exclusive license to use Parvus Therapeutics’ platform for diabetes, coming in with an unspecified package of milestones, an upfront, research support and an equity stake to seal the deal.
That’s a very big deal for Parvus, which has been operating for the last few years on about $20 million in research grants and $5 million in angel investments with a few full-time staffers to guide the work being done in Pere Santamaria’s lab at the University of Calgary.
Santamaria, the CSO and founder at Parvus, was running an imaging experiment using nano-sized bits of iron oxide when he made a serendipitous discovery. As he went on to later write in Nature:
(S)ystemic delivery of nanoparticles coated with autoimmune disease relevant peptides bound to major histocompatibility complex class II (pMHCII) molecules triggers the generation and expansion of antigenspecific regulatory CD4+ T cell type 1 (TR1)like cells in different mouse models, including mice humanized with lymphocytes from patients, leading to resolution of established autoimmune phenomena.
Those reprogrammed regulatory T cells were able to stop the autoimmune attack – in mice – without flattening the immune system.
That’s what got Novartis’ interest.
“There had been informal contacts with Novartis fairly early on in the life of the company,” CEO Janice LeCocq told me.
Santamaria’s first paper on this was published in 2010 with the second appearing last year, and he’s been working in the lab for years to complete the preclinical work needed to get an IND ready for the FDA, he says. A joint committee with Novartis will now oversee that step, with the pharma giant taking charge of the clinical program.
LeCocq isn’t providing any timelines on development right now.
Like a lot of virtual biotechs, Parvus depends on a network of consultants for much of the heavy lifting that needs to get done at the company. And now with Novartis’ support the team will also get to start adding a development group, which can turn to one of the other potential autoimmune disease targets on the menu for their tailored Navacims.
Multiple sclerosis is the furthest along on that list, but LeCocq says they have made no final decisions on what Parvus will turn to next as NIBR focuses on Type 1 diabetes.