Selecta Biosciences - 2011 Fierce 15

Selecta Biosciences
Watertown, MA
Werner Cautreels

The Scoop: Selecta's scientific founders make up a techie's dream team. MIT's Bob Langer, a regularly featured player in the Fierce 15 and the intellectual force behind a long lineup of biotech companies, joined forces with Omid Farokhzad and Ulrich von Andrian of the Harvard Medical School to develop the drawing-board inspiration behind this innovative vaccine startup. And as is often the case with a Langer biotech, Polaris Venture Partners and Flagship Ventures worked together to seed the company. Additionally, they helped raise a total of $33 million in venture cash, the lion's share of which arrived in two rounds just a year apart.

What Makes It Fierce: Selecta's success will depend on the quality of its biodegradable polymer nanoparticles, a synthetic vaccine particle platform that holds the promise of cheap, large-scale production. Once these particles assemble into the shape of a virus, they can spur a dramatic immune response. But they're also antigen specific, adding enhanced tolerability to their therapeutic punch. Their vaccines could prove an effective defense against infectious invaders or for preventing, say, Type 1 diabetes.

Selecta's lead program is a nicotine vaccine targeting smoking cessation and relapse. The Phase I study for that program--backed by a $3 million grant from the NIH--is slated to get under way in the fourth quarter of this year and wrap midway in 2012, offering a shortcut to proof-of-concept vaccine data and setting the stage for Phase II work. 

Selecta struck a key partnership with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) in June on a synthetic nanoparticle vaccine program aimed at treating and possibly even preventing Type 1 diabetes.

The JDRF sees some wide ranging potential for this program. A successful jab could help maintain the remaining beta cell function for newly diagnosed Type 1 diabetes patients, bolster regeneration and replacement therapies and shepherd the regenerated or transplanted beta cells. And as a class, these new vaccines could play an important role in treating other autoimmune diseases.

At the end of August, as FierceBiotech was putting this year's Fierce 15 to bed, Selecta followed up with the news that the Science Applications International Corporation had handed the biotech a subcontract to develop a synthetic vaccine particle product for malaria with funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The company also announced that Takashi Kei Kishimoto, the former VP of research at Momenta, was named CSO.

"The way we think about business development is to go asset by asset," says CEO Werner Cautreels (pictured), a veteran developer who headed Solvay before Abbott ($ABT) swooped in early last year and bought that company out. There have been some partnering discussions related to Selecta's nicotine program, he adds, and the JDFR announcement "created a lot of interest."

Selecta has built up a staff of 35 now, according to Cautreels. And as new collaborations are formed "we will add one or two people with specific competencies in that area."

Venture backers: Polaris Venture Partners, Flagship Ventures, OrbiMed Advisors, NanoDimension and Leukon Investments.

Selecta Biosciences - 2011 Fierce 15

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