Selecta and Cyrus Partner on Therapeutic Proteins for Immune Disorders


A Seattle-based biotech is cashing in on acclaimed protein design software “Rosetta” developed in David Baker’s lab at the University of Washington.

On Wednesday, UW spinout Cyrus Biotechnology, founded in 2014, unveiled a potentially $1.5 billion collaboration with Boston-based Selecta Biosciences to develop novel engineered therapeutic proteins for autoimmune and immune-related conditions.

The partnership will pair Selecta’s immune-modulating ImmTOR platform with Cyrus’ ability to radically redesign protein therapeutics through its de novo computational approach. The lead program, which will be followed by two as-yet-undisclosed targets, is a proprietary interleukin-2 (IL-2) protein agonist designed to selectively promote the expansion of regulatory T cells (Tregs). There is evidence that a reduction in the number of these cells drives autoimmune diseases. The companies hope that by stimulating their expansion, they may reduce inflammation and improve outcomes for these patients.

Preclinical studies show that ImmTOR, in combination with a Treg-selective IL-2 mutant protein, does just that, interacting to substantially increase the percentage and durability of Treg expansion in the spleen. The IL-2 protein has demonstrated the ability to calm an overactive immune system, thereby minimizing the symptoms of autoimmune disease.

“We are excited to collaborate with Cyrus, and we see this strategic protein engineering partnership as an important step in advancing our ImmTOR platform for the treatment of autoimmune diseases,” said Selecta President and Chief Executive Officer Carsten Brunn, Ph.D. “We are encouraged by the preclinical data generated to date and the growing literature that supports the potential of IL-2 therapeutics in treating immunological diseases.”

Cyrus’s industry-leading protein structure prediction tool, Rosetta, is the first software that has been proven to design new proteins computationally and has the capacity to engineer therapeutic proteins with superior stability. The company states that its Rosetta-designed proteins have the ability to treat brain cancer, break down gluten in Celiac Disease patients, and block a broad range of flu strains.

“This collaboration is in perfect alignment with our protein design expertise and represents an important endorsement of our platform, which has the potential to further enhance the potency of ImmTOR’s tolerizing power,” said Cyrus Chief Executive Officer Lucas Nivon, Ph.D.

Starting with an undisclosed upfront payment, the collaboration can bring in up to $1.5 billion for Cyrus with the attainment of particular drug discovery, development and sales milestones. Under the terms of the agreement, Cyrus will be responsible for engineering IL-2 to be combined with ImmTOR.

“Beyond leading a paradigm shift in the way biologics are made, ultimately this collaboration has the potential to unlock new treatment options and improve the lives of patients who suffer from serious and debilitating diseases,” Brunn shared. 

This is hardly the first collaboration for either company.  In June 2020, Selecta entered a license and option agreement with Sarepta Therapeutics, Inc., leveraging ImmTOR in investigational gene therapy for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and Cyrus enjoys partnerships with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to optimize gene-editing techniques based on CRISPR. Cyrus sells its protein design software, Cyrus Bench, to several customers, including large pharmaceutical companies. 

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