Protomer Gets a Boost to Develop Glucose Responsive Insulin
Francesca Billington is a dot.LA editorial intern. She's previously reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. Before joining dot.LA, she was a communications fellow at an environmental science research center in Sri Lanka. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.
Protomer Technologies Inc., a Pasadena-based biopharmaceutical startup, closed a second round of funding to expand the tech platform it's using to develop insulin that adjusts according to a diabetes patient's blood sugar levels.
The undisclosed raise came from the JDRF T1D Fund, a Boston-based venture philanthropy fund that focuses on type one diabetes research.
The pre-clinical stage startup was launched in 2015 by a team of Caltech faculty and alumni to build a "heavy chemistry-based platform," said CEO and founder Alborz Mahdavi, who received his PhD in bioengineering from the university. They're now using the technology platform to create drugs that can activate once they've been injected into patients, including a new type of insulin.
The treatment still needs FDA approval.
Typically, diabetes patients carry with them glucose meters and insulin to track and maintain the sugar levels in their blood. Protomer's product is designed to activate itself automatically depending on a person's blood sugar levels.
"With this insulin, you don't need to worry about that," Mahdavi said. "There's enormous interest in this. This insulin will be completely transformative for people with diabetes."
Mahdavi said the platform could also be applied to other therapeutic settings like neuroscience and oncology. For example, a drug injected in patients with cancer could switch off if the treatment isn't working. It could also activate in a specific region of the body, which means that side effects of chemotherapy would diminish if the drug were "only active locally."
"Imagine you have pancreatic cancer and you're taking an oncology drug," he said. "The problem is that the drug will be active all over the body, which is why you get all these side effects."
Dave Whelan, CEO of BioscienceLA, said several companies in the field are engineering cells designed to fight cancer cells this way. It's a challenge researchers have been trying to crack for a while.
"It's a long time coming," he said. "It's very reassuring to see investments in this space because the last several months there's been so much focus on COVID, and part of that has been at the expense of other disease areas."
As the pandemic ushers in a new way of telemedicine, he sees an urgency in introducing therapeutics that don't require in-person physician attention. Meanwhile, cancer patients and certain diabetes patients may be more at risk if they contract the virus.
"When you see something like this, it just makes me feel good that there's still attention being paid to these diseases and conditions that will be with us long after COVID," he said.
Protomer's first equity investment, also an undisclosed amount, was led by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company. Whelan said that move might signify a future acquisition, as big pharma often looks for innovation outside their own companies.
"It's not only an advance for life sciences and care, but because they're making progress and getting additional funding, that helps them grow the whole industry here," Whelan said. "We absolutely need more of that going on in L.A."
Clarification: An earlier version of this post stated that the T1D Fund has spent over $2 billion on type one diabetes research. While its nonprofit parent company JDRF many have spent that much, the T1D Fund has not.
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El Segundo-based telemedicine technology provider Cloudbreak Health and Florida-based UpHealth Holdings, a digital healthcare provider, announced they will combine and go public via a SPAC in a deal that values the combined companies at $1.35 billion.
Named UpHealth, Inc., the new company aims to streamline online health care by becoming a single provider of four different services: telehealth, teletherapy, a health care appointment and management system and an online pharmacy.
Jamey Edwards, co-founder and executive director of Cloudbreak
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The spread of the novel coronavirus has sped the adoption of telemedicine in the United States, eliminating barriers like insurance reimbursements. It's also shone a light on the need for faster vaccines and a need for greater investment in public health, experts said on a dot.LA virtual panel Tuesday that looked at how investors are responding to COVID-19.
A move to telemedicine "was a long time coming," said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "A lot of doctors and institutions weren't comfortable with that" but now those concerns have been "blown out of the water." Since the pandemic erupted, two-thirds of UCLA medical visits have been done using telehealth.
Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine.
Jeffrey Klausner, MD, MPH, is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine and Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology in the Fielding School of Public Health.<p>Dr. Klausner earned his Medical Degree from Cornell University Medical College with Honors in Research. He completed his Residency in Internal Medicine at the New York University—Bellevue Hospital Center. Dr. Klausner earned his Master's in Public Health with a focus on International Health and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. After that training, Dr. Klausner was an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer at the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. Dr. Klausner completed his Fellowship in Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington, Seattle.</p>
Jay Goss is General Partner at Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health
Jay Goss, General Partner @ Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health<p><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker" data-verified="redactor"></span>Jay is a General Partner at Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health. Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health is Southern California's leading Seed-stage healthcare-focused venture capital fund. The fund's investment thesis is that after 40+ years, healthcare is transitioning away from fee-for-service to value-based payments, and with that comes a massive amount of disruption. There will be no shortage of clinical operations and business challenges to solve in the coming decade, and entrepreneurs are already coming out of the woodwork to solve these problems. Moreover, countless business models are now for the first time commercially viable because the healthcare industry is embracing value-based payments. The fund counts among its investors 50+ healthcare senior executives, eager and extremely able to add value to the early stage companies in which the fund invests. Prior to launching Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health, Jay operated dozens of early stage companies all over Southern California, and advised dozens more.<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker" data-verified="redactor"></span> </p>
Llewellyn Cox is a general partner at MarsBio
Llewellyn Cox, General Partner at MarsBio<p>Llewellyn is an entrepreneur from Gillingham, Kent, England. He founded LabLaunch, the leading biotechnology incubator network in Southern California, and BioBuilt, a firm that assists early-stage companies in building lab space.Llewellyn received a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cell Biology at Cardiff University, before moving to New York City to perform postdoc research in neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College. Llewellyn is an adjunct professor at Keck Medicine of USC where he teaches translational biology and science communications.</p>
Rachel Uranga, is a reporter at dot.LA.
Rachel Uranga, Reporter @dot.LA<p>Rachel covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines. </p>
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