Get in the KNOW
on LA Startups & TechX
A new biopharmaceutical startup, ACELYRIN, that launched this week is on the hunt for new immunological therapies that it can bring to market.
The company just closed a round backed by Westlake Village BioPartners, a two-year-old venture capital fund that recently raised $500 million.
Flush with an undisclosed amount of cash, ACELYRIN is looking to fund research done in academia or by smaller companies that will lead to the commercialization of new drugs.
"At the end of the day, what we really want to do together is we want to build a long-term, sustainable biopharma company, with initial focus on immunology, that ultimately has a pipeline with the potential to be really meaningful to patients with serious diseases," said co-founder and chief executive Shao-Lee Lin. "Our ultimate goal is to have a fully integrated biopharma company with broad research, development and commercialization capabilities."
Lin created the company with Bob Carey, whom she met at Horizon Therapeutics, a biopharmaceutical company based in Lake Forest, Illinois, that focuses on rare diseases, rheumatology and primary care.
Carey was Horizon's chief business officer when Lin joined as its first chief scientific officer as well as the head of research and development. They worked on developing drugs like Tepezza, a thyroid eye disease medicine and Krystexxa, a gout medication. Carey will serve as ACELYRIN's chief operating officer.
Bob Carey is co-founder and. chief operating officer at ACELYRIN.
Shao-Lee Lin is co-founder and chief executive at ACELYRIN.
"[Carey] contributed tremendously to the transformation of [Horizon] from sort of a specialty pharma company to a rare-disease-focused, and then ultimately to a development-stage organization, which is when I joined — when it started to think about having an R&D organization," said Lin.
They want to take ACELYRIN in a similar direction, to become a company that has arms in research and development, as well as one that commercializes its medicines. They plan to partner with big pharmaceutical companies to take on projects that may have been sidelined.
It's a common model among smaller and newer companies, according to Karen Van Nuys, a professor at the USC Price Price School of Public Policy and in the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics.
"[These companies] often focus on initial discovery and early development phases, but then partner with a larger, more established pharmaceutical company when the time comes to conduct large-scale trials and go through the formal drug approval process," said Van Nuys.
ACELYRIN hopes to eventually be able to keep all steps of projects within their company. For now, they are searching for partners in big pharma and academia while they grow.If successful, Lin and Carey think they will build on Los Angeles' status as California's third biotech hub, after San Diego and San Francisco. Last year, L.A. County received over $1.1 billion from the government for life science research and development, according to a recent report by Biocom.
- Westlake Village BioPartners Raises $500M - dot.LA ›
- Acelyrin Raises $250 Million to Develop Izokibep Drug - dot.LA ›
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 may have spent that much, the T1D Fund has not.