A University of California, Davis (UCD) spinoff is developing a new therapeutic approach to treat autoimmune diseases. UCD researchers and founders of Sierra Biopharma have set an initial focus on treating myasthenia gravis, a chronic autoimmune disease affecting 1.4 million people worldwide. The disease causes use-induced muscle fatigue and generalized muscle weakness that can result in life-altering difficulties in vision, swallowing, talking, and walking. The research is based on an antigen-specific therapy that attacks the cause of the disease without suppressing the entire immune system.

The Disease

Myasthenia Gravis is a chronic autoimmune, neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles that worsens after periods of activity and improves after periods of rest. These muscles are responsible for functions involving breathing and moving parts of the body, including the arms and legs. A rare disease, the prevalence in the U.S. is estimated at 14 to 20 per 100,000 population—about 36,000 to 60,000 cases per year. However, it is an underdiagnosed disease and its prevalence is probably higher.

The Research

As recently reported by UC Davis Innovation and Technology Commercialization News, the two UC Davis researchers are taking a new approach with Sierra Biopharma by treating the disease with an antigen-specific therapy that attacks the cause of the disease without suppressing the entire immune system. They are developing a compound that not only binds to, neutralizes, and clears the pathogenic antibodies, but also binds to and eliminates the memory B-cells responsible for producing more of the pathogenic antibodies.

From the Lab to the World of Fund Raising

The two researchers have moved into new terrain launching a biotech startup. Help has been there with the Biotech Innovation Gallery (BIG) Accelerator program offered by UC Davis Venture Catalyst. This program helps offer support and guidance to leaders of UC Davis-associated biotech startups with training on how to develop an effective business model, strategies to protect intellectual property, and guidance on how to pitch to potential strategic partners and investors. This year’s program concluded with a showcase event involving 22 startups (including Sierra Biopharma); the founders were able to pitch their value proposition to venture capitalists and biotech companies attending the highly influential J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco in January 2020.

Although it is not clear if the venture raised any funding, they are scaling up production of their therapeutic biologic and plans to complete a proof of concept and preclinical work during the next half year, reports UC Davis.

Participation in 2020 Science2Startup

Moreover, the two founders accepted an invite to participate in a showcase event known as 2020 Science2Startup where top scientists from around the globe present ideas and interact with investors and executives in the Boston biotechnology hub.

Lead Research/Investigators

Robert H. Fairclough, PhD, Co-Founder

Vu Trinh, PhD, CSO, Co-Founder

Call to Action: The UC Davis-based spinoff is on to a noble cause and appears to be founded by two exceptional minds. Investors interested in novel approaches to autoimmune disease should consider connecting with them.

Source: UC Davis

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