Most gene remedies, for example, use viruses to enter someone’s cells and alter their DNA. But those infections elicit immune system replies that can have unpredictable outcomes and often, in some full cases, eliminate potential benefits from the treatment. Select Biosciences is attempting to get over those issues with a nanoparticle-based system, called ImmTOR, that has been proven to control human immune system responses in primary scientific data.
The company is pairing its ImmTOR technology with natural drugs that can cause unwanted immune system responses, to raise the drugs’ efficiency and security. Robert Langer, Selecta co-founder, and the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT. The business’s lead drug candidate, currently in a stage 2 trial with the U.S. Drug and Food Administration, is aimed at treating an agonizing inflammatory condition called chronic gout. Beyond that trial, Selecta is targeted to allow the repeated dosing of gene treatments, which it has already achieved in mice and complete in a recent Nature Communications paper.
Select a team of research workers has made an important improvement in advancing the nanoparticle technology since the start of the company in 2008. The foundations of the company, however, were laid at MIT generally. The science behind Selecta’s ImmTOR technology has its roots in a 1994 paper published by Langer among others in the journal Science.
The paper discussed a method for using biodegradable nanoparticles as a vehicle to control the circulation of drugs in the body. Omid Farokhzad MBA ’15 came to Langer’s lab in 2001 as a postdoc and improved the technology’s capability to focus on specific types of cells. Farokhzad also confirmed the technology’s potential in a full-time income organism for the first time. Farokhzad joined up with the faculty of Harvard Medical School in 2004, where he is currently a teacher and the director of the guts for Nanomedicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, but he and Langer have continued to collaborate to this day.
In 2006, both researchers published an extremely cited paper displaying how to use synthesized nanoparticles to deliver drugs to tumor cells. The three founders began by working with MIT’s Technology Licensing Office to secure a substantial part of Selecta’s founding intellectual property. Meanwhile, Langer leveraged his legendary network (nearly 1,000 researchers worldwide have been trained in his laboratory on campus) to help get the business off the ground. To secure seed funding, he turned to two former-students-turned-investors, Polaris Venture Partners handling partner Amir Nashat Ph.D. 03 and Noubar Afeyan Ph.D. 87, the founder of investment account Flagship Pioneering. The founders’ first hire was Lloyd Johnston SM ’92 Ph.D. 96, who got previously proved helpful for another company founded by Langer.
At first, the business done developing vaccines by using the nanoparticles to trigger the disease fighting capability in response to specific antigens. Nonetheless it pivoted to use its technology to induce immune system tolerance later. Farokhzad says tolerance is a much riskier, less explored path, however the rewards can be much higher if drugs earn FDA approval.
When matched with gene treatments, Selecta’s ImmTOR nanoparticle platform includes rapamycin, an immunomodulator that’s presently approved to avoid organ rejection after kidney transplants. The rapamycin prevents the forming of antibodies that normally attack the Trojan, allowing the disease to effectively enter cells and edit genes. The approach is a large upgrade in comparison to some other immunomodulators, which suppress the formation of all immune cells in the body simply. Farokhzad likens Selecta’s technology to “engineering, or teaching,” the immune system to tolerate specific drugs. The added class brings a true number of advantages.
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For instance, the immune responses brought on by many gene remedies can harm patients or wipe out the effectiveness of a second dose. In Selecta’s recent Nature Communications paper, the company used ImmTOR to successfully re-administer these gene treatments in pets. Redosing holds particular promise for children who may benefit from continued gene therapy treatment later in life. Overall, Selecta believes unwanted immune responses will be the biggest reason that drug candidates fail. Company officials are hoping their technology can dramatically broaden the applications of treatments like gene therapy and business lead to better patient outcomes for each drug that’s hampered by immune system responses.
Anywhere else, the company’s ambitious goals would stand out. But in the higher Boston area, Selecta is merely one of an ever-growing number of biotech companies with a history that may be traced back to MIT and a radical plan to transform the near future. Langer doesn’t think the flourishing biotech sector around MIT is a coincidence.