The latest financing was led by ProQuest Investments, and included Immune Design’s previous investors—The Column Group, Versant Ventures, and Alta Partners. The new investment is the second-biggest venture deal in Washington state this year, trailing a $40 million round for Seattle-based Calistoga Pharmaceuticals.
Immune Design was founded in 2008 with technology from the Caltech lab of Nobel Laureate David Baltimore, and from Steve Reed’s team at the Seattle-based Infectious Disease Research Institute. The technology is based on a vector from Baltimore’s lab that makes it possible to specifically stimulate dendritic cells of the immune system, which are known for sending sentinel warning signals about pathogens to other cells of the immune system. That targeting ability is being combined with synthetic chemical compounds called adjuvants, which are used to boost the effectiveness of vaccines. These adjuvants from Reed’s lab, when combined with Baltimore’s precise delivery system, offer an opportunity to trigger highly potent, more specific immune responses in the body than vaccines from the past, according to Rick Klausner, a partner with the Column Group, in an interview with Xconomy last August.
Vaccines, which were once a backwater of the pharmaceutical industry because of their low profit margins and high potential legal liability, have made a comeback in recent years. Pfizer’s pneumococcal vaccine (Prevnar) and Merck’s human papillomavirus vaccine (Gardasil) have shown vaccines can command premium prices and reach billion-dollar blockbuster status.
Immune Design isn’t revealing much about its progress in today’s financing announcement. It now has cash to advance clinical studies of a synthetic adjuvant that stimulates Toll-like Receptor 4, which is being used in “multiple internal and partnered programs,” the company said. Another program, DC-NILV, is designed to stimulate dendritic cells against cancer—which is similar in concept to what Seattle-based Dendreon (NASDAQ: DNDN) does with its marketed product, sipuleucel-T (Provenge). Today’s statement didn’t make any mention of adjuvants to boost the potency of flu vaccines for elderly people, a program for which the company has performed clinical testing.
Reed, the company’s CEO, is well known in biotech circles as a co-founder and former chief scientist at Seattle-based Corixa. The company also last year recruited Bruce Carter, the chairman of ZymoGenetics, to serve as its executive chairman.