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Asphelia Pharmaceuticals Inc.

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

In an era of high-tech medicine, of painstakingly designed molecular inhibitors and personalized medicine driven by genetic responses to drugs, Asphelia Pharmaceuticals is placing its bets on a primitive technology: intestinal worms, known as helminthes. Helminthes release proteins that boost the activity of regulatory T-cells, and the antigens they produce appear to influence a variety of targets. Asphelia is developing helminthes as an oral treatment for Crohn's and other autoimmune diseases. Also in the company's pipeline, a novel oral compound that targets integrins in order to treat immunological and inflammatory disorders.

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ProtAb Ltd.

While the aim of many existing biological therapies is to reduce levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, Israeli start-up ProtAb aims to increase levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines. ProtAb's lead monoclonal antibody, Proximab, is directed against an epitope of the bacterial heat shock protein 65 . As well as linking to Hsp65, Proximab cross-links with a surface ligand on macrophages, activating a signal transduction pathway that up-regulates anti-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-10. ProtAb has completed two proof-of-concept studies that showed efficacy in adjuvant-induced and collagen-induced arthritis. In 2008, the company will also conduct proof-of-concept studies of Proximab in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and psoriasis.

Start-Ups Against Inflammation

Inflammation plays a part in a wide range of diseases across a broad spectrum of markets, including the huge and already crowded, like rheumatoid arthritis; the difficult to navigate, like Crohn's disease; and the emerging, like atherosclerosis. Start-ups looking to compete in inflammation can boost their chances of success by focusing on niche indications or on drug targets with broad applicability, and thus attract the attention of in-licensers or acquirers. In this issue, we profile four young companies hoping to prove the worth of their technologies to investors and partners alike.

Calistoga Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Formed around a preclinical program licensed from Icos, Calistoga Pharmaceuticals Inc. is developing multiple small-molecule inhibitors of the phosphoinositide-3 kinase pathway, a hot area in inflammation. Calistoga is targeting the PI3K delta isoform. Its initial clinical indications are hematological malignancies, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. A Phase I trial of CAL-101, an orally available, small-molecule inhibitor for inflammatory disease and cancer, is currently underway.

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