Autoimmune diseases occur when our immune systems mistakenly start fighting parts of our own bodies, rather than foreign invaders. The trick is to stop the attack without weakening our body’s defenses. That’s the idea behind a new startup that launched this morning called Delinia.
The company, with operations in Cambridge, MA, and San Francisco, CA, has raised a $35 million Series A round co-led by Sofinnova Partners and Atlas Venture. Delinia is currently led by Saurabh Saha, a venture partner at Atlas, and plans to treat “serious and life-threatening autoimmune diseases,” according to a company statement, though it hasn’t said which ones as of yet.
There are many autoimmune disorders, from rheumatoid arthritis to inflammatory bowel disease and lupus. The common theme is a haywire inflammatory response that causes damage to one part of the body or another—in RA, our joints, and in IBD, our guts. Typical therapies for autoimmune disorders suppress the activity of the immune system. Adalimumab (Humira), for example, is a biologic drug approved for a slew of autoimmune disorders, and it works by tamping down the immune response in diseases like RA or Crohn’s disease (a form of IBD)—but at the cost of leaving the body open to potentially serious infections. Drugs like adalimumab also don’t work for everyone.
Delinia, by comparison, says it aims to beat back the inflammatory response in autoimmune diseases without broadly suppressing the body’s defenses. To do so, it aims to use protein drugs that target regulatory T cells, or Tregs—a type of immune cell that helps regulate the body’s immune response. The goal is to change the levels of Tregs in the body and restore “balance” between various types of immune cells, which in turn supposedly will keep the body’s defenses from commencing a wayward attack.
Delinia’s protein drugs are based on the work of co-founder and chief scientific officer Jeffrey Greve, the former vice president of research at another company developing protein drugs for autoimmune diseases, San Diego’s aTyr Pharma. The $35 million round will get Delinia through a proof-of-concept study for its lead program.
Saha was previously the chief medical officer of Synlogic, another Atlas startup, and president and CSO of BioMed Valley Discoveries before that.
Atlas, meanwhile, is fresh off a win with another autoimmune disease startup. The firm formed Padlock Therapeutics in 2014, a company developing treatments for a variety of autoimmune disorders by targeting so-called PAD enzymes, and sold it to Bristol-Myers Squibb for up to $600 million this past March.