Food allergy startup bags $17M for oral immunotherapy

California's fledgling Allergen Research Corp. (ARC) has hauled in $17 million to get its oral peanut allergy immunotherapy through mid-stage trials, setting out ambitious goals to apply its platform to some of the world's most vexing food allergies.

With the Series A in hand, ARC will bankroll a Phase IIb of its peanut allergy treatment, which uses a slow, steady up-dosing regimen of pharmaceutical-grade peanut proteins to reeducate the immune system. Unlike postreaction treatments like epinephrine, ARC's immunotherapy gradually diminishes the body's response and eventually results in allergen desensitization, the company said.

ARC will launch that trial in the fourth quarter of this year, and the startup has a full plate of development targets, planning to kick off mid-stage trials for milk, egg, soy, wheat, shrimp, fish and tree nut formulations over the next 6 years.

The rate of food allergies among U.S. children has roughly doubled over the past 10 years, ARC said, reaching as high as 8%. Furthermore, food allergy reactions send someone to the emergency room every three minutes, ARC CEO Bryan Walser said, creating a huge unmet need for effective therapies.

"The constant vigilance required for allergen avoidance creates stress not just for the affected individuals and their families, but for whole communities trying to accommodate and protect the individuals," Walser said. "Treatment with (oral immunotherapies) could be like using safety belts and having airbags in a car--we want it to be available and used to protect children and their families."

Longitude Capital led the round, joined by Food Allergy Research & Education, a nonprofit that helped found ARC in 2011.

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