Promising autoimmune biotech bought out as celiac drug heads for the clinic with a fresh infusion of cash
After four years of preclinical work, one of the more promising companies in the hunt for a drug to treat celiac disease is getting bought out by a partner, which will now get a new infusion of cash to drive the lead drug into its first clinical trials.
Kanyos Bio, originally formed in 2015 in a collaboration between the Cambridge-based Swiss biotech Anokion and the Japanese Astellas, has been acquired by Anokion, which landed $40 million in Series B financing to bring its Kan-101 program into clinical trials. The platform uses an antigen-specific treatment to target the auto-immune disease often popularly thought of as a gluten allergy. They plan to file an investigational new drug application with the FDA by the end of the year.
Anokion specializes in autoimmune diseases and in addition to Kan-101, hopes to have its antigen-specific multiple sclerosis drug, ANK-780, in clinical development within the next year. Anokion’s Series B funding will come from Versant Ventures, Novartis Venture Fund, Novo Ventures and longtime partner Celgene, along with a handful of Swiss-based private investors.
Celgene retains a buyout option on Anokion from a 2017 agreement, although that would have to pass muster with Bristol-Myers Squibb as the pharmaceutical completes its buyout of Celgene.
No treatment currently exists for celiac disease, which affects 1% of people. A strict diet will prevent attacks, but if even trace amounts of gluten — found in a wide range of foods — slip in, it can irritate intestines and cause long-term health problems.
Antigen-specific autoimmune therapies have appeared to be the best hope for directly treating celiac, while biotechs have viewed celiac as a way of introducing platforms and therapies they hope can eventually target other autoimmune diseases, including MS. These “antigen-specific” therapies try to do what doctors have done for over a century with allergies: using prolonged exposure to increase tolerance. By exposing T cells to a particular antigen, the therapy raises the cells’ tolerance and dampen their response. It just uses peptides instead of peanuts.
Promising therapies, though, have struggled. In June, Arch-backed ImmusanT abandoned a PhII celiac trial after an interim analysis found little indication of success. They hoped the platform could be applied to other autoimmune disorders.
In August, ActoBio Therapeutics announced it was bringing an antigen-specific therapy, AG017, into the clinic. Yesterday, GlaxoSmithKline purchased one biotech, Sitari, from longtime partner Avalon Ventures that takes a different approach. Sitari uses a therapy to inhibit TG2, which they believe triggers the inflammatory response in celiac disease. They will try to bring the treatment into the clinic for the first time.
Kanyos is also working on a diabetes therapy.
Social image: Microscopic of small intestine with normal elongated villi, which increases surface area for absorption of nutrients. In celiac disease, the villi are flat, resulting in diarrhea, Shutterstock