A potential new therapy targeting difficult-to-treat immune system disorders has secured $20 million in Series A funding to progress through early clinical trials.

The lead KB312 antibody drug candidate is based on decades of research led by the late Professor Derek Hart and Associate Professor Georgina Clark while working at the Mater Medical Research Institute, the Anzac Research Institute and The University of Sydney.  Many Australian collaborators over the past decade have also contributed to the research, including scientists at the National Biologics Facility at The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) in collaboration with the University of California San Francisco and the Cooperative Research Centre for Biomarker Translation.

UQ’s technology transfer company, UniQuest, licensed the intellectual property rights to Sydney company DendroCyte Biotech.

DendroCyte Biotech on-licensed the therapeutic program to Kira Biotech, attracting investment from One Ventures, IP Group and the Advance Queensland Business Development Fund to advance KB312 through early clinical trials.

Kira Biotech CEO Dr Dan Baker said the company’s program would focus on immune tolerance and target cells and pathways that were key activators of the immune response in patients with autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and type 1 diabetes.

“We’re also keen to look at how KB312 might address transplant complications seen in graft-versus-host disease and rejection associated with heart and kidney transplants,” he said.

“Unlike existing treatments that broadly target immune cells, Kira Biotech’s antibody targets a specific activated cell which directs the immune response. In doing so, KB312 limits the negative impacts of broad immunosuppression and preserves beneficial immune cells that protect patients against infections and malignancies.”

AIBN Professor Stephen Mahler, one of the inventors of KB312 along with Dr Martina Jones and Professor Trent Munro, said it was exciting to see the technology attract funding to enable clinical translation and testing.

“KB312 is an antibody that binds a  novel target that may regulate key immune functions and it’s exciting to see it further developed in the clinic,” he said.

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss said the deal was a vote of confidence in the expertise of UQ to develop therapeutic antibodies and a direct outcome of its continued investment in biologics capabilities at UQ.

“This provides further evidence of our ability to translate biologics at the highest level, which complements our Queensland Emory Drug Discovery Initiative, formed to translate small molecules into drug candidates,” he said.

OneVentures principal Sarah Meibusch said it was delighted to have completed Kira Biotech’s Series A fundraising round, secure Dr Baker to its leadership team and establish a new Australian company.

“The OneVentures Healthcare Fund III is backed by the Australian Government’s Biomedical Translation Fund which is focused on commercialising world-class biomedical innovations here in Australia, and Kira is a terrific example of this,” she said.

IP Group Australia managing director Michael Molinari said it was delighted to be investing in Kira Biotech and excited to work with an expert team.

“Kira is a great example of world-class research that can potentially benefit millions of patients and deliver global impact,” he said.

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