Bob Langer’s Selecta Wins Support From Diabetes Foundation for Research Collaboration

6/9/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Ever since 2004, when the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) started a program called Industry Discovery and Development Partnership, it has awarded $75 million to 32 companies that are developing entirely new approaches to combating Type 1 diabetes. Today, the New York-based foundation announced the newest recipient of funding and research support under that program: Selecta Biosciences, a Watertown, MA-based vaccine developer founded by MIT professor and prolific entrepreneur Bob Langer.

Neither the JDRF nor Selecta would reveal the financial details of the deal, but ultimately the money may be less important to Selecta than the prestige and knowledge the foundation brings to the project. “The JDRF is a worldwide leader in research on Type 1 diabetes,” says Selecta CEO Werner Cautreels. “Their scientific board sets the global agenda for diabetes research, and they have access to a lot of expertise.”

Selecta, which has raised more than $30 million since it was founded in 2008, is developing vaccines that are made of polymer nanoparticles. They are “antigen-specific tolerogenic vaccines”—meaning they stop the autoimmune response that causes disease without damaging cells that keep people’s immune defenses intact. Under the terms of the research partnership, the JDRF will award financial support to Selecta based on research milestones it hits as it applies the technology to Type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The diabetes program is currently in the early stages of discovery. Cautreels says that the company’s goal is to reach proof-of-principle within a year, and then pick the best drug candidates for clinical trials.

Young biotech companies often seek out charitable organizations for funding—but in this case, the opposite occurred. Richard Insel, chief scientific officer of JDRF, says his staff reached out to Selecta last year, because they believed the company’s vaccine platform might offer a new way to attack diabetes. “To cure Type 1 diabetes, as well as to prevent it, will require adjusting the underlying immune response,” Insel says. “We’re focused on the idea of re-educating the immune system, and we thought this technology could be directed towards that.”

The goal of the research collaboration is to find a vaccine that can be given to patients in the early stages of the disease—ideally to prevent them from becoming dependent on insulin, Insel says. But the vaccine might be useful as a companion therapy, too. For example, it’s possible … Next Page »

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