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Synbiobeta: PvP takes a nontraditional path to early stage drug development and financing

May 1, 2017

Winning iGEM award was just the beginning

The KumaMax project got its start in 2011 as an undergraduate project at the University of Washington (UW) for the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. The iGEM competition is the premiere student team competition in synthetic biology.

The 2011 UW iGEM team entered a computer-generated protein design to combat the symptoms of celiac disease.  The design focused first on identifying an enzyme that could work in the highly acidic environment of the stomach and then designing it to breakdown the immunoreactive parts of gluten.

They became the first undergraduate team to win iGEM’s global prize.

But the story didn’t stop there.

Team co-leader and PvP’s chief scientific officer, Ingrid Swanson Pultz, Ph.D., continued to work on the KumaMax prototype as a postdoc in Dr. David Baker’s lab and later as a faculty member at the Institute for Protein Design with her research scientist Clancey Wolf.

Dr. Pultz says, “The enzyme that the students had generated was still a prototype at that point so my goal was to further engineer it and then use more sophisticated methods to test it.”

She advanced the KumaMax project by earning several grants and assembling a team of consultants and contractors.  Once the project had early proof-of-concept, Dr. Pultz began looking for a team and a partner to take KumaMax into clinical trials.

She recruited a management team with a successful track record of developing and commercializing pharmaceutical products, including for gastrointestinal diseases.

Dr. Pultz continued, “We were inspired to work with this team because they have very specific experience in developing drugs for GI disease. The team previously worked together at Meritage Pharma and partnered with Shire on a GI drug candidate that is now in Phase 3 clinical trials.”

With the team in place and an exclusive license from UW for the technology, PvP then secured a $35 million development agreement with Takeda Pharmaceutical Company.

Synbiobeta describes the deal, “…it’s hard not to feel awed with PvP Biologics’ seemingly out of nowhere deal with Medical Innovation company Takeda barely two months into the company’s official spin-off from Washington University. More impressive still, is to have managed to cover Phase I without having to raise a traditional round from a venture group.”

Synbiobeta summarizes, “(t)he Takeda deal is just the tip of the iceberg that’s been PvP Biologics’s story: an impressive collection of non-traditional development, which will hopefully pave the road for more ways of developing faster, more impactful solutions based on what synthetic biology now enables us to do.”

Learn more about the history of designing KumaMax here.

Read the full article from synbiobeta here.