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Wyss Scientists Launch Opsonix With $8M to Fight Blood-Borne Bugs

Xconomy Boston — 

Donald Ingber is known as a pioneer in the organ-on-a-chip field. But the founding director of Harvard University’s Wyss Institute apparently has some other ideas up his sleeve—like a method of clearing dangerous infections from the blood, a technology that has formed the basis for his latest startup.

Opsonix, a startup spun out of the Wyss in Cambridge, MA, emerged from stealth this morning with $8 million in Series A financing. The cash comes from Baxter Ventures, the venture arm of Baxter International, and Swiss billionaire investor Hansjorg Wyss, the founder of the Wyss.

The work comes from the lab of Ingber, a Harvard professor best known for his pioneering work in the field of organs on chips—a preclinical testing technology meant to increase the odds of a drug’s success when it’s eventually tested in humans. Ingber’s work led to a startup called Emulate, which scored a $12 million Series A last year—a round that Hansjorg Wyss also took part in.

Opsonix is Ingber’s latest startup. He and Wyss staff scientist and biotech veteran Michael Super have come up with what they call “pathogen-capture proteins.” They’re engineered version of opsonins—parts of the innate immune system, the body’s first line of defense. Opsonins bind to pathogens and mark them for destruction by immune cells, which helps the body clear out foreign invaders.

Opsonix is attaching these engineered opsonins to the membrane of a device similar to those used to filter blood in dialysis. The idea is that, as blood flows over the membrane, the engineered molecules can bind to and thus remove from the body a variety of dangerous pathogens—bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses—that can lead to sepsis. Sepsis is a potentially deadly inflammatory response to an infection that affects about 1 million people in the U.S. and 18 million worldwide every year.

Opsonix says its treatment is designed to work in tandem with conventional antibiotics. CEO Eric Devroe—previously an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Wyss—said in a statement that the technology may “rapidly remove” sepsis-causing invaders from the body, and also clear the blood of microbes that can resist antibiotics. If proven effective, the technology could lead to treatments blood-borne infections can be started earlier, even before doctors run all the tests necessary to identify exactly what the infectious agents are, Devroe said.

Opsonix is using its new cash to run preclinical studies for its therapy. The startup has a license from Harvard to use engineered opsonins in pathogen-extracting devices and as companion diagnostics.

Photo of Donald Ingber courtesy of PopTech via Creative Commons.