New funding boosts potential therapy for immune disorders

6 November 2019

A potential therapy targeting difficult-to-treat immune system disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis will progress to clinical trials next year after securing $20 million in Series A funding.

The KB312 antibody drug candidate was discovered by University of Queensland researchers in collaboration with the University of California San Francisco, Mater Research Institute-UQ and the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Biomarker Translation.

UQ’s Professors Stephen Mahler, Trent Munro and Dr Martina Jones discovered KB312 at the National Biologics Facility at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

“It is exciting to see the technology attract funding to enable clinical translation and testing,” Professor Mahler said.

“KB312 is an antibody with a novel target that is common to many immune system disorders and has the potential to benefit millions of people around the world.

“What we’ll explore in clinical trials is firstly whether the antibody is safe for human use and secondly whether the antibody is able to deliver an effective treatment for selected disease indications with less side effects than current treatments.”

Immunology Company Kira Biotech secured investment to advance the KB312 antibody to clinical trials from One Ventures, IP Group and the Advance Queensland Business Development Fund.

Kira Biotech CEO Dr Dan Baker said the research program would focus on immune tolerance and target cells and pathways that were key activators of the immune response in patients with autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and type 1 diabetes.

“We’re also keen to look at how KB312 might address transplant complications seen in graft-versus-host disease and rejection associated with heart and kidney transplants,” he said.

“Unlike existing treatments that broadly target immune cells, the antibody targets a specific activated cell which directs the immune response.

“In doing so, KB312 limits the negative impacts of broad immunosuppression and preserves beneficial immune cells that protect patients against infections and malignancies.”

UQ’s technology transfer company UniQuest licensed the antibody rights to Sydney company DendroCyte Biotech, which on-licensed the intellectual property to Kira Biotech.

UniQuest CEO Dr Dean Moss said the deal was a vote of confidence in the expertise of UQ to develop therapeutic antibodies and a direct outcome of its continued investment in biologics capabilities at the AIBN.

“UQ has already demonstrated the ability to translate small molecules through its Queensland Emory Drug Discovery Initiative (QEDDI) and now here’s further evidence of our ability to do that with biologics at the highest level,” he said.