A Durham biotech startup that spun out of Duke University has raised $7 million in seed funding to scale up its purification technology for biotherapeutics.
Isolere Bio Inc. announced Wednesday it has raised $7 million in equity from lead investor Maryland-based venture capital firm Northpond Ventures. The funding will allow for development, scaling up and commercialization of the purification technology for adeno-associated viral vectors (AAV), which account for 40 percent of the viral vector market, according to Isolere.
“The Research Triangle area is a growing playground for cell and gene therapies and we are very excited to be part of that growing cell and gene therapy community,” said Kelli Luginbuhl, co-founder and CEO of Isolere Bio, which was founded in 2017.
Viral vectors are engineered and used to develop a therapeutic gene that will treat and cure diseases that were previously thought to be untreatable, said Luginbuhl, who attended graduate school at Duke University.
“But viral vectors are very complex and very difficult to manufacture,” she said, “which is where Isolere’s technology comes in.”
Tylenols and chemotherapeutics are made by chemists whereas cell and gene therapies are made within cells, she said. In order to make them pure and safe enough to deliver, scientists have to get rid of all the cellular contaminants, such as the cell’s DNA, RNA and cell membrane fragments, Luginbuhl said.
Isolere’s IsoTag technology aims to improve viral vector yields by at least 50 percent and ramp up productivity by a factor of five to 10, which should accelerate timelines and improve costs for biotherapeutics, according to the company.
“You should be able to purify the actual viral vector in one eight-hour shift or less,” Luginbuhl said.
Isolere is already working with four leading companies in the viral vector space to externally validate its technology, Luginbuhl said.
“The first phase is really for us to send our materials out and our protocol to these collaborators to make sure that it’s repeatable in someone else’s hands,” Luginbuhl said. “And then from there we’ll be working with these companies to demonstrate that the technology scales up.”
The technology could also expand to other types of viral vectors used in therapies as well as mRNA vaccines given the success of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna (Nasdaq: MRNA) Covid-19 vaccines, Luginbuhl said.
Luginbuhl said the funding gives the company a significant runway and the ability to double its current headcount of five by the end of the summer and likely triple it by early 2022.
The startup isn’t looking to jump into raising Series A funding until likely late next year, she said.
Northpond had reached out to Isolere around fall of last year after the startup was featured as a company to watch in the journal Nature, but Isolere wasn’t looking to raise any funding at that time, Luginbuhl said.
“So we said stay in touch and when we are ready to raise money we’ll reach out,” she said.
The startup has previously received funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the North Carolina Biotech Center, Luginbuhl said.
“We were really happy with where that technology had reached and so we’re really ready for the next phase, which is developing commercial feasibility and getting the product to market,” Luginbuhl said. “We’re very excited to be backed by Northpond.”
Northpond’s portfolio focuses on companies in life science, research and development solutions, molecular diagnostics, digital health, and therapeutics. The firm is a familiar investor in Triangle companies.
“Northpond is honored to collaborate with Isolere and contribute this seed funding,” said Adam Wieschhaus, director at Northpond Ventures and who will join the startup’s board of directors. “Isolere’s technology represents a step change in how gene therapies will be manufactured. We are privileged to collaborate with this incredibly talented team in developing highly accessible and scalable solutions for gene therapy manufacturing.”