New York biotech is still a ways away from the life sciences startup factories in Boston and San Francisco. But the last few months have shown that some investment firms are willing to fund and grow new biotechs in Manhattan—the latest being a company called Syntimmune.
Syntimmune hadn’t made an announcement since it was formed in 2013. But a regulatory filing shows the company raised the first $8 million of a planned $26 million Series A round two years ago. And today, after making some early progress on some potential treatments for autoimmune diseases, Syntimmune made its first announcement, revealing it has secured another $10 million tranche from that round. Apple Tree Partners and Baxalta Ventures, the VC arm of Baxalta, co-led the round, which included participation from Partners Innovation Fund and other unnamed backers.
Syntimmune was formed by brothers Laurence and Richard Blumberg, who almost two decades ago teamed up to found Syntonix Pharmaceuticals—a hemophilia drug developer that Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) acquired in 2007. Laurence is Syntimmune’s chief operating officer, and Richard is the company’s scientific founder.
The company is developing a drug called SYNT001 that could begin clinical testing later this year for an unspecified autoimmune disease—some progress in early preclinical testing triggered the additional $10 million investment.
Syntimmune’s drug blocks the interaction of two molecules in the body—called neonatal Fc Receptor (FcRn) and immunoglobulin G (IgG)—that together can cause autoimmune disease, when the body attacks itself. Apple Tree venture partner David de Graaf said in a statement that SYNT001 could address “a large number of autoimmune [diseases].” He wasn’t specific, but the FcRn-IgG relationship is implicated in several autoimmune disorders, including lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Syntimmune isn’t alone in targeting this interaction with an antibody drug. Cambridge, MA-based Momenta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: MNTA), for instance, is developing a drug that targets FcRn that is expected to begin its first clinical trial in the middle of this year. Dutch firm Argenx has a drug in early clinical testing. Dyax, recently acquired by Shire, also has an FcRn-blocking drug in its pipeline. Belgium’s UCB and Korea’s HanAll Biopharma are also in the mix.
“While FcRn is a highly validated target and has attracted substantial industry interest, there are no commercially available therapies designed to block IgG-FcRn interactions, which underlie diseases that affect multiple organ systems and for which there are continuing substantial medical needs,” Richard Blumberg said in a statement.
The investment continues what’s been an active few months for the New York biotech scene. Since December, at least four other Manhattan biotechs—Petra Pharma, Kallyope, Lodo Therapeutics, and Kyras Therapeutics—have raised sizeable investment rounds backed by firms like Versant Ventures, Lux Capital, Polaris Partners, Accelerator Corp. and others. While that’s commonplace in Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s a new development in New York, which for a variety of reasons has had trouble nurturing a biotech startup ecosystem.