Startup Atreca Joins With Gates Foundation to Speed Vaccine Discovery

10/2/12Follow @tanseyverse

Two-year-old Atreca, a very small company with very big plans, recently got a very big boost when the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a $6 million equity investment in the biopharmaceutical firm.

San Carlos, CA-based Atreca and the Seattle non-profit will work together to speed up progress toward the development of new vaccines and drugs. Atreca could also receive project grants under the long-term collaboration, which will use the company’s novel antibody detection platform to support the foundation’s longstanding global fight against infectious diseases.

Atreca’s method for rapidly surveying the antibodies produced by individual patients can give researchers detailed feedback on the effectiveness of experimental vaccines, says chief executive officer Tito Serafini.

But the potential of Atreca’s technology platform could reach well beyond its use as a clinical trial support tool, Serafini says. It could also identify new drug targets in a range of diseases by cataloging the antibodies produced in response to infections, tumors, and other conditions that activate the immune system.

“Those antibodies provide a rich trove of potential therapeutics and diagnostics,’’ Serafini says. Atreca’s ultimate aim is to become a developer of new medical treatments.

The company was founded in 2010 to commercialize the discoveries of one of its co-founders, Stanford University professor of medicine William H Robinson. Atreca recently negotiated an exclusive license for the technology from Stanford. Its seed capital came from angel investors, including several Atreca co-founders, and Mission Bay Capital, an independent venture firm managed by leaders of a University of California research consortium, QB3.

Atreca’s method, called “Immune Repertoire Capture,” can take a quick snapshot of the many types of antibodies people are producing at a particular time, says Serafini.

Do this when somebody is fighting a cold bug, say, and you will find that his immune system has put out a cloud of different antibodies, each reacting uniquely to some feature of the microbe, or antigen, that the body has recognized as a foreign enemy.

Searching for patterns amid that antibody population can provide clues for scientists who want to make drugs or vaccines to fight the germ.

“It tells you what the body thought was important,” says Serafini, a Stanford PhD, former UC Berkeley faculty member, and former executive with two biopharmaceutical companies, Nuon Therapeutics and Renovis. A potent antibody itself … Next Page »

Bernadette Tansey is a freelance journalist based in Berkeley, CA. Follow @tanseyverse

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  • Jerry Jeff

    very cool.