Loxbridge in $7m joint venture with Dr Kary Mullis to develop novel therapeutics
2 October 2011
London-based health technology investment company Loxbridge Research LLP is investing $7m in a joint venture with Dr Kary Mullis, the Nobel Prize-winning inventor of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
The new company, Altermune Technologies LLC, will focus on the development of novel therapeutics to combat resistant pathogens such as MRSA, C. difficile, pseudomonas, and pandemic influenza.
Under the terms of the joint venture, Dr Mullis takes on the role of Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) in charge of scientific development and innovation. Dr Charles Roberts, CEO of Loxbridge, takes on the role of President of Altermune for the initial developmental period, supported by in-house executives. Concurrently, Loxbridge will provide a milestone-based seed-funding funding package worth US$7 million.
The Altermune method is a highly innovative and elegant mechanism to treat resistant pathogens (‘superbugs’), offering a much-needed revolution in anti-pathogen therapy — a space that has lacked the investment and innovation in recent years necessary to combat ever-mutating, dangerous, multi drug-resistant strains.
Altermune is pioneering the use of ‘programmable immunity’. This involves re-tasking antibodies that are ubiquitous in all humans and present at a high background level, and which are ordinarily not tasked by the body in fighting infections.
Altermune uses ‘linker’ molecules to redirect these antibodies to selected pathogens. The linker molecules work through having two distinct ends. One end binds a consistent cell-surface target on the pathogen using an aptamer (a single stranded oligonucleotide), and the other end presents specific epitopes that attract the circulating antibodies.
Once attached to the pathogen, via the Altermune linker, the antibodies then activate a full immune response, heightened because they are the individual’s own endogenous antibodies, not synthetic administered ones. The approach therefore harnesses the power of the immune system, yet circumvents the disadvantages of administering monoclonal antibodies — such as immunogenicity and high costs.
Notably, the Altermune approach brings new hope in the fight against multi-drug resistant pathogens — because the mechanism of action is entirely novel, and the targets can be selected in a highly programmable manner from those known to be essential to the pathogen and difficult to mutate. As such, the method has the potential to deliver a much-needed, truly disruptive, adaptive therapeutic platform to deliver antibacterial and antiviral drugs over the next decade.
Altermune has a strong team of in-house scientists supporting its management, and a wide network of partnerships. These include collaborative research arrangements with a number of the world’s leading Universities in the USA and Europe, to supplement Altermune corporate relationships with some of the foremost companies in oligonucleotide synthesis and aptamer selection.
The initial priority is to build on the compelling proof of concept of the Altermune platform, demonstrated in vitro against influenza, and in vivo against anthrax by US Air Force scientists, into a pipeline of compounds against clinically and commercially relevant pathogens, to undergo FDA approval.
Dr Roberts, CEO, commented: “We are very excited about Altermune and about entering a joint venture with an innovator with such an awe-inspiring track record. The Altermune project provides a very broad platform of therapeutic opportunities against a range of pathogens, with some compelling preclinical proof of concept. We will be investigating each candidate in a broad research program before focusing on one or more lead candidates to progress to the clinic.
"We are interested in new partnerships with leading microbiologists and virologists to help expand the breadth of our pipeline. We are also in the process of pursuing several large grant applications to leverage our commercial investment and allow us to address new pathogens. Partners for these grants with appropriate expertise, especially in gram negative bacteria and cancer immunotherapy, are always welcome.”
Dr Mullis said: “I am delighted to be joined by the Loxbridge team in our ongoing Altermune program. We chose to proceed with Loxbridge over other suitors because, unlike our other potential funders, the investment is smart money that comes with project management and hands-on commercial expertise. It seems to work very well that the investor is also the entrepreneur, able to pilot the project. This structure frees me from ongoing business administration, and enables me to focus on the science.”
Within Altermune, Dr Mullis will draw on the experience gained, through his invention, development, and commercialization of PCR, to ensure the science behind aptamer linkers is a strong commercial proposition.
Dr Mullis’s work against infectious diseases marks the culmination of a decade-long mission. He was spurred on to develop the drugs through to clinical reality following the deaths of several friends to resistant pathogens acquired in hospital. He was awarded the Nobel prize for Chenistry in 1993.
More information on Dr Mullis and Altermune