Pfizer backs a small Swiss upstart's attempt to discover a non-viral gene therapy
Joël de Beer made it just a few months into his PhD program at ETH Zurich before he dropped out to join the hunt for the holy grail of gene therapy — a non-viral delivery mechanism.
Now that he’s raised $61 million from some big-name backers — including Pfizer’s venture arm — to aid that quest, the pressure is on.
Anjarium Biosciences uncloaked Thursday morning after four years in stealth mode, sporting a Series A round co-led by Abingworth and Gimv. The team of five has set up shop in a picturesque village about 40 minutes outside of Zurich to solve the current challenges of AAV using DNA-based gene vectors.
“Our ambition now is to really paint the future of the field ourselves,” de Beer, Anjarium’s founder and CSO, told Endpoints News.
One of the major advantages of Anjarium’s approach is that DNA-based vectors, unlike AAV, don’t trigger an immune response. With AAV, some patients have a natural immunity to the viral vectors, or, once they’re dosed with it, they mount an immune response, making it difficult to re-dose.
“We don’t have any viral components in it, and hence the pre-existing immunity, or maybe an acquired immunity, is something that we are not expecting,” de Beer told Endpoints News. “Meaning that you could start to have individualized dosing, depending on, let’s say, (the) age of a patient, (or) their lifestyle.”
The ability to re-dose could allow scientists to treat some people with a lower dose to start, potentially avoiding some of the safety issues involved with giving higher doses. There’s also the potential for an increased payload capacity and more targeted delivery, de Beer explained.
Anjarium’s delivery platform includes what the company calls its Hybridosome tech, which combines a lipid nanoparticle and an extracellular vesicle.
“Oftentimes when you’re trying to tackle very complex problems, see what Mother Nature has given you as a solution … and try to mimic that,” de Beer said. “So that’s where the extracellular vesicle component comes into play, where we can hopefully bank on 3 billion years of evolution to really improve that delivery, which you can then … further engineer in view of that synthetic biology revolution, which is going on right now.”
Anjarium is far from alone in the search for gene therapy 2.0. Just a few months ago, GlaxoSmithKline vet Brian McVeigh launched Code Biotherapeutics with $10 million in seed funding to develop a synthetic DNA-based vector. Generation Bio closed a $230 million IPO last June to fund its preclinical push for a non-viral gene therapy to treat diseases of the liver and retina. And Michael Ehlers is leading a new effort over at Apple Tree Ventures.
“The brightest minds in the world are trying to tackle exactly that issue of not being able to apply such medicine twice, having to get it right the first time,” de Beer said.
The Series A round, which also saw participation from Omega Funds and Surveyor Capital, will be used to expand Anjarium’s team and progress several programs toward the clinic. De Beer declined to reveal the company’s targets just yet, adding that they won’t be in the clinic for at least another two years.