Avaxia Pulls in $2M from Angels to Fund Development of Cow-Derived Drug

11/15/11Follow @arleneweintraub

The phrase “pharmaceutical manufacturing” doesn’t generally evoke visions of dairy farms. But it does for Barbara Fox, co-founder and CEO of Lexington, MA-based Avaxia Biologics, which is developing a drug derived from cow’s milk. And she’s succeeding in getting investors to share her vision: On November 10, Avaxia announced that it had closed $2.2 million in Series A funding, led by Cherrystone Angels in Providence, RI, with participation from Boston Harbor Angels and undisclosed individual investors. Fox is confident she’ll find an additional $1.5 million by the end of the year.

Avaxia is developing an antibody-based drug called AVX-470, which combats tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a protein that has been implicated in several inflammatory diseases. Unlike other anti-TNF drugs, such as Johnson & Johnson’s infliximab (Remicade), AVX-470 is designed to be taken orally, rather than injected or infused. Avaxia is developing the drug in two diseases for which there are few effective treatments: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and GI acute radiation syndrome, a common complication suffered by cancer patients.

Fox, an immunologist by training, came up with the idea for the drug a few years ago, when she was consulting for a company that was developing bovine antibodies. She realized that cows might offer an ideal way to deliver antibody therapies in an easy-to-take pill—an oral formulation that can survive the trip through the GI tract. “The trick is to find antibodies that are not chewed up when they go through the stomach,” she says. “Antibodies from cow’s milk are inherently stable. They’re designed that way by nature.”

Avaxia produces AVX-470 by immunizing pregnant cows with a bioengineered form of human TNF. Then the antibody made by the cows’ immune systems is isolated from their “colostrum”—the milk they make just before giving birth (which is also called “first milk”). “It’s a very rich source of antibodies,” Fox says. “You can get about a kilo of our antibody from a cow in the first four days after calving.”

As unconventional as this manufacturing method may seem, Fox says, the FDA is fully on board with the idea. There are already about 15 approved animal-derived drugs on the market, including one made by Avaxia’s famous neighbor, biotech giant Genzyme (now owned by Sanofi). The drug, called antithymocyte globulin rabbit (Thymoglobulin), … Next Page »

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