Today, Desentum, a Finnish biopharmaceutical company developing next generation immunotherapy to treat allergies, announced that it has raised approx. EUR 2.3 million in a crowd funding campaign arranged by a Finnish investment service company Kansalaisrahoitus. Desentum is progressing towards clinical stage with its first immunotherapeutic product targeting birch pollen allergy. The funds raised in this round will be used for early-stage clinical trials.
For the past 10 years, the research groups in VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and University of Eastern Finland have studied interactions between allergens and IgE antibodies and made ground-breaking discoveries about the mechanism of allergic reaction. Based on these discoveries Desentum – a spin-off from VTT – has developed novel immunotherapeutic hypoallergens, also known as allergy vaccines. The company aims for significant improvements on currently available allergen immunotherapy by making it faster, safer and easier. In cell-based tests, the lead vaccine candidate, rBet v 1 dm hypoallergen targeting birch pollen allergy, has induced 100 times less histamine release compared to a natural allergen. This suggests significantly reduced allergenicity. In allergic mice, rBet v 1 dm has induced immunological response typical to desensitization.
The next step is testing the safety and efficacy of the hypoallergen in clinical trials.Clinical trials include several phases and are controlled by regulatory authorities. All new drugs need to pass the trials before applying for a marketing authorization. Desentum aims to initiate clinical studies with Bet v 1 dm next year. Planning of the studies is already in progress. To raise funds for the early-stage trials, the company offered new shares to the public in a crowd funding campaign arranged in October-November by a Finnish investment service company Kansalaisrahoitus. The campaign brought in approx. EUR 2.3 million and 270 new shareholders.
"As an investment, Desentum is a long-term, high-risk investment. Drug development is time-consuming, and despite good preclinical results only clinical studies can determine whether the product will meet the expectations. However, to balance the risk the investment also has potential for high returns if the clinical trials are successful. We are very happy to see that so many investors decided to make the investment at this stage. In addition to the financial potential, the investment also has societal significance, since allergy is a huge problem with increasing prevalence but limited treatment options. An efficient allergy treatment could improve the lives of millions of people", says Pekka Mattila, CEO of Desentum.
In principal, Desentum's technology can be utilized for turning any allergens into immunotherapeutic vaccines. Currently, the company has several hypoallergens in development, including grass pollen, dog and horse allergens. Future plans include tackling cat, mugwort and peanut allergies, for example.
"Our primary target is to show the safety and efficacy of 1–2 vaccine candidates in early-stage clinical trials and, after that, seek an industry partner for late-stage clinical trials and market access. The funds raised in this round enable us to move forward towards the set goals with the first vaccine candidate. We also intend to recruit additional expertise for clinical trials, and advance the research and development of other hypoallergens", says Pekka Mattila about the future plans.
This week Desentum will also attend Slush 2017 in Helsinki as one of the 20 companies pre-selected by an investor jury to pitch in the Life Science and Health Investor Lunch scheduled for Thursday.
Immunotherapy in allergy treatment
Allergy is one of the most common chronic conditions in Europe. Today, more than 150 million Europeans suffer from allergic diseases. For one in five patients the condition is severe enough to create a constant threat of a severe allergic reaction or an asthma attack. European Academy of Allergy and Clinical immunology (EAACI) predicts that by 2025 allergy will affect half the population in Europe. Allergies cause social and economic burden such as health care costs, missed school and work days and impact on the daily lives of the patients.
Allergies are generally managed by medication that alleviates the symptoms. The most common medications are antihistamines and corticosteroids. Immunotherapy is the only treatment currently known that affects the mechanism of allergy. It re-educates the immune system to tolerate the allergen, decreasing the need for medication. Immunotherapy can be administered as injections or sublingual tablets or drops, and the treatment usually takes a few years. The novel immunotherapeutic products that are under development aim for speeding up the treatment as well as improving the safety, efficacy and convenience.
About Desentum Oy: Desentum is a biopharmaceutical company based in Espoo, Finland. It is specialized in developing a novel type of allergen immunotherapy based on switching the immune system's response to allergens from hypersensitivity to tolerance by utilizing modified hypoallergens. Desentum, founded in 2011, is a spin-off company from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. In 2013 VTT received an EARTO Innovation Prize for the work behind the immunotherapeutic products.