+Timos Papagatsias

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Immune Design steps up and gets noticed…again...and again!

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Back in July, Immune Design raised $32 million in a Series B financing; that’s quite a bit of money and brings the total up to $50 million since 2008. Amongst the leading investors we can see ProQuest Investments (who also have in their portfolio companies like Aerovance, who develops asthma-combating drugs, and  Somalogic, who develops novel diagnostics tools for oncology, neurology and CV diseases), The Column Group, Versant Ventures and Alta Partners.
Now the company is making waves once again by licensing out its proprietary GLA (Glucopyranosyl Lipid Adjuvant) to MedImmune, for it to be used as an immunomodulating agent in vaccines for select infectious diseases. GLA is a TLR-4 agonist and is considered to be the next generation of MPL (Monophosphoryl Lipid A), an adjuvant originally developed by Corixa and currently being used in vaccines produced by GSK, following the latter's acquisition of Corixa. GLA was originally licensed to Immune Design by the Infectious Disease Research Insitute, IDRI, of Seattle.
Immune Design's approach to vaccine design and development is pretty straightforward: targeting of dendritic cells (DC) with their proprietary vector (DC-NILV, Dendritic Cell targeting Non-Integrating Lentivirus Vector)  coupled with GLA.  Not surprisingly, and given their “talent” for attracting investment, Immune Design had already been identified as an emerging drug developer by FierceBiotech in 2008.
The company has some big names on its Scientific Advisory board. Lary Corey is heavily involved in HIV vaccine clinical trials, Rafi Ahmed is involved in HIV vaccine research as well, David Baltimore developed the prototype lentivirus vector that Immune Design are now using (and of course has received the Nobel prize for the discovery of reverse transcriptase!), Philip Greenberg who works on modulating T-cell responses to viruses, Inder Verma, who develops gene therapy vectors and Ralph Steinman who is credited with the discovery of dendritic cells. Throw in the mix someone like Richard Klausner who was an Executive Director for Global Health at the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and Director of the National Cancer Institute and you end up with a pretty strong team. David Baltimore and Richard Klausner are also on the board of Directors. Immune Design also has a strong executive team; you can find more info here. Given the structure of the Scientific and Exec boards, Immune Design venturing into the world of HIV vaccines pretty soon looks a real possibility.
Although the company appears a promising and investable package, it lacks in variety of antigen delivery systems and adjuvants. Looking at their technology, as shown on their website page, the company seems to have been built around a single vector-adjuvant system, not a particularly "safe" approach-a profitable one so far though, as the GLA licensing deal with MedImmune will give Immune Design $212 million. The ability, however, to directly and specifically target DC is a major advantage and should yield exciting results in the years to come. It can be expected that they will seek to partner with companies that are quite geared towards antigen modification for enhancement of immune responses, such as SEEK (formerly known as PepTcell) a company with universal flu and HIV vaccines in Phase II clinical trials.


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