Just over six weeks ago, we broke the news that 5AM Ventures had plunked $3.3 million into a stealthy biotech it was calling ImmunoNewco, and a few weeks later speculated further that the startup might be engaged in a pharmacogenomic “rescue” of immune-modulating drugs acquired from the low-profile Danish biotech Borean Pharma.
Well, I was largely right — but still partly wrong — about the goings-on at ImmunoNewco. I recently spoke with the company’s new CEO, Kathy Bowdish, in order to get the real scoop.
First, what I got wrong: ImmunoNewco — a placeholder name — isn’t about pharmacogenomics at all. (Brief recap: Because public filings named former Perlegen Sciences executive Phyllis Whiteley as the startup’s president, I suspected that it might be planning to use genetic profiling to identify the patients most likely to respond to an otherwise disappointing drug.) Instead, ImmunoNewco essentially is Borean Pharma, as the startup basically acquired the Danish concern a short while back.
Bowdish says 5AM, which recently brought on respected Scripps Institute immunologist Richard Ulevitch as a venture partner, wanted to expand its presence in immune-related disorders — a vast array of disease encompassing everything from type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis to, potentially, heart disease and even cancer. Whiteley, who has a long history of arranging drug-licensing deals at Roche and Perlegen as well as a background in immunology, came aboard to locate drug candidates that could be used to jump-start a startup, so to speak.
Ulevitch and Whiteley “scoured the world,” Bowdish told me, and eventually determined that Borean Pharma would be a “perfect fit.” Once the acquisition was underway, Bowdish joined to oversee the transfer of Borean’s programs to the new company, which will be based in San Diego. (Presumably the enigmatic Mikkel Holmen Andersen is involved as well.)
Borean’s approach to drug discovery begins with existing human proteins with important biological properties that for one reason or another aren’t suitable as drugs by themselves. (The company has so far focused on human tetranectin, a fairly recently discovered blood protein that may play a role in various autoimmune diseases and cancer.) Borean’s insight was to bind additional proteins to tetranectin in order to enhance its stability and effectiveness as a drug.
I’d point to Borean’s site for more details, but it’s reverted to a stub pending the launch of ImmunoNewco, and tetranectin seems to be an awfully complicated and not particularly well-understood protein. BioPortfolio does have a brief summary of Borean’s work to date.
None of Borean’s drugs have entered human testing yet, and Bowdish declined to say what diseases the company hopes to target. She does sat, however, that the Borean technology “has an unlimited potential for next-generation immunology.” We’ll have to wait to learn more.
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