Bay Area’s GigaGen Develops Synthetic Immune System to Harness Antibodies
April 19, 2016 (Updated April 20 at 8:45am PT)
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO – The development of therapeutics that harness the body’s immune system has exploded in popularity among biotech companies with many investing heavily in research and development. Now, GigaGen, a biotech startup with its roots at Stanford University, has developed one of the world's first synthetic immune system that executives believe will allow the company to treat multiple illnesses and develop drugs at a much faster pace.
Although still in its early stages, the small, but scrappy company, has been effective in raising funds to develop its single cellular sequencing and protein expression platform. GigaGen, which currently has nine employees, has received financing from several sources, such as StartX, the National Institute of Health and the Defense Advances Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
“We’ve done a lot with hardly anything,” David Johnson, GigaGen’s cofounder and chief executive officer, told BioSpace in an exclusive interview. “We have to be efficient with our survival at stake, so we have to be smart with what we do.”
The harnessing of the body’s immune system and the antibodies developed from it can be more effective than typical drug treatments and have fewer side effects. GigaGen’s platform “integrates cell clonal identity, function, and target binding across millions of single primary B or T cells in parallel, creating libraries of antibodies or T cell receptors to express or sequence at a rate of millions per hour, eclipsing conventional methods by several orders of magnitude,” according to the company’s website.
While sequencing is being conducted by other companies, such as Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics , GigaGen’s platform physically links complete protein coding sequences for massively parallel protein expression. That mining of B and T cells will allow the company to develop therapies for multiple targets, including cancers and immune deficiency diseases. The company is also developing therapies for Ebola and Zika viruses.
“The challenge is to find the right immune cells to use,” Johnson said. “Our technology allows us to do that in a matter of hours, whereas in the past it would take a decade. Instead of going after artificial antibodies, we’re going after what exists in the patients themselves, capturing that and then expressing it in patients.”
In terms of developing therapeutics, GigaGen is looking to raise approximately $20 million to bring its technology to trial, Johnson said. However, he added it might take the company three or four years before they move into the clinical phase. “It’s fairly inexpensive, especially when a lot of drug companies spend hundreds of millions before bringing things to clinic. What we’re doing will allow us to do things a lot cheaper,” Johnson said. “It’s expensive and takes some time to bring things to the public.”
So far the company has concentrated on safety in animal trials. Johnson said all the mice injected with GigaGen’s therapies have done well and have not shown any toxicity.
Johnson said GigaGen is open to venture capitalists and other funding sources to continue development of its technology. A number of companies are blazing a trail in the development of immunotherapies, but even those with high ratings of efficacy are still a bit limited, Johnson said. He noted that Merck ’s Keytruda, which has been shown to be effective in clinical trials treating patients with three types of cancer (melanoma, lung cancer and mesothelioma), work for just 10 to 20 percent of the population, which leaves the remaining 80 percent looking for effective therapies. Johnson said he anticipates GigaGen’s technology will provide therapies for that much larger pool of patients.