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it could protect beta cells that are transplanted into patients as a potential cure for the disease. “Those new cells are often destroyed by the immune system,” Cautreels explains. “The vaccine might give them a higher chance of success.”
And JDRF could offer Selecta a higher chance of succeeding with regulatory agencies, potential funding partners, and ultimately patients. Insel points out that several research projects funded by the Industry Discovery and Development Partnership have already been picked up by large pharma or biotech companies. Among them: San Mateo, CA-based Bayhill Therapeutics, which licensed its diabetes program to Genentech in 2009. “If we can take on the risk early on, and then someone with deeper pockets comes in, that’s a success,” Insel says.
The JDRF has also helped startups by educating the FDA about new therapeutic options for diabetes, and advocating on behalf of patients for new products. “It’s not just about discovery,” Insel says. “It’s about making sure these products are approved in a timely manner.”
The JDRF’s support for Selecta’s diabetes program will help the company devote its venture dollars to other projects that are further along in the research process, including a smoking-cessation vaccine. The molecule, called SEL-068, is an antibody against nicotine. The nanoparticles in the vaccine essentially trap the nicotine, so it can’t reach the dopamine-releasing receptors in the brain that cause people to become addicted to cigarettes. “Four out of five smokers who quit relapse,” Cautreels says. “We believe this vaccine, together with counseling, will prevent relapse.” Selecta plans to begin clinical trials later this year.
Cautreels believes the Selecta’s vaccine technology will ultimately have broad appeal. The nanoparticles, he explains, stay intact until they reach the lymph nodes—the centerpoint of the immune system. “They only act where they need to act,” he says, which could reduce the potential for side effects. Plus the particles are synthetic, which means they can be easily manufactured on a mass scale, he adds.
In conjunction with the JDRF announcement, Selecta also said it would add a new vice president of business development, Peter Keller, who will be charged with finding partners to advance the company’s product candidates. “As we go into the clinic, we thought it would be the right time to start positioning the company for deals,” says Cautreels, who worked with Keller at Solvay Pharmaceuticals before it was bought by Abbott in 2010.
Selecta is studying the potential of its technology in cancer, flu, allergy, and other therapeutic areas. The cash the company has raised will take it through the middle of next year, Cautreels says, after which he hopes to have some business-development partners on board. Raising more venture capital is also an option, he says. And he believes the company’s mission will attract other big-name supporters that are in the same league as the JDRF. “Using the immune system to treat disease,” he predicts, “will be the wave of the future.”
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