Selecta ramps up a gout program, gets more cash for vaccine R&D

Nanoparticle player Selecta Biosciences has executed a series of moves today aimed at refocusing its game plan, fueling work on a top program with cash from the NIH and launching a few new initiatives at the busy biotech--which has operations in Watertown, MA, and Russia.

At the top of the to-do list: Push new work on a drug called SEL-212, building on its work aimed at preventing an unwanted immune system response to a drug.

The biotech set up a new program for SEL-212 with plans to make a new, much safer version of pegsiticase--or uricase-PEG 20, which was bought up by China's 3SBio back in 2010 for a little more than $6 million--for gout. In addition, the NIH has provided an $8.1 million grant for Selecta to continue efforts on its nicotine vaccine for smoking cessation. And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has stepped up with $1.25 million to advance work on a new malaria vaccine.

That new program for gout--which builds on the work the biotech has been doing related to hemophilia, diabetes and food allergies--could also open the door to some new partnerships with other companies out there with a drug that would profit considerably by becoming immune tolerant.

Selecta has been developing a nanoparticle platform tech--dubbed the synthetic vaccine particle platform--that originated in the lab work done by MIT's serial entrepreneur Bob Langer. Essentially it's kind of like a Lego system, in which the biotech can assemble nanoparticles into a structure that mimics a virus so it can spur an immune system attack against a threat like malaria. And it can use the same tech to reverse the process and prevent an unwanted attack that can often be provoked by a drug--a process called immunogenicity.

"It's an ideal communication tool with the immune system," says Selecta CEO Werner Cautreels about his tech platform. And he's clearly pumped about the potential for using this technology to prevent immunogenicity.

"We have looked into the biologicals on the market and there are about 30 where immunogenicity is a serious problem on the label," says the CEO. "Those would all be candidates for combining with our technology."

The biotech has been very effective at raising cash. Selecta has garnered commitments totaling about $80 million and has received $58 million of that. Rusnano came in on a $25 million pact designed to get the biotech working on the ground in Russia, a program that is now fully underway.

- here's the release on SEL-212
- and the release on the new cash