Desentum wins a 1.9 M€ EU grant for first-in-human clinical trials
Desentum has been awarded a 1.9 M€ grant from the EIC pilot SME Instrument for a project titled AllergyVAX. The two-and-a-half-year project, starting at the end of 2018, includes early clinical trials of Desentum’s lead product candidate, an immunotherapeutic vaccine for birch pollen allergy.
Allergen immunotherapy usually takes several years but Desentum aims at reducing the time to 3–6 months without compromising safety and efficacy. Desentum’s approach is based on using targeted DNA techniques to modify known allergens into so-called hypoallergens. The hypoallergens are expected to improve the safety of allergen immunotherapy and to enable faster initiation of immunological mechanisms that will protect from allergy. The model has been tested in laboratory conditions. The first-in-human clinical trials scheduled to start in autumn 2019 are designed to provide information about the safety and immunological effect of the hypoallergen in allergic patients.
Desentum’s CEO Pekka Mattila sees several positive aspects in the EU grant. “The main objective of the AllergyVAX project is to gain first-in-human clinical data of the birch pollen allergy vaccine. It is an important step towards the clinical Proof-of Concept of our platform technology and the grant helps us reach that goal faster”, Mattila says. “Also, competition for the public SME Instrument funding is extremely tough and Desentum being recognised as one of the most promising SMEs in Europe gives a very positive signal to both our current business partners and potential future collaborators.”
About EIC SME Instrument: The SME Instrument is a public funding program that is part of the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 through the European Innovation Council (EIC) pilot. It funds top-class innovative small and medium-sized enterprises that have the potential to disrupt existing markets or create new ones. The SME Instrument is highly competitive: only about 4 % of the applicants are selected for funding.
About Desentum Oy: Desentum is a biopharmaceutical company based in Espoo, Finland. It is specialized in developing a novel type of allergen immunotherapy based on switching the immune system's response to allergens from hypersensitivity to tolerance by utilizing modified hypoallergens. Desentum, founded in 2011, is a spin-off company from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. In 2013, VTT received an EARTO Innovation Prize for the work behind the immunotherapeutic products.
Immunotherapy in allergy treatment
Allergy is a disorder of the immune system where a normally harmless environmental substance – such as food, pollen or animal dander – causes an allergic reaction. In Europe, 150 million people already suffer from allergies and the number is increasing rapidly. Allergies cause social and economic burden such as health care costs, missed school and work days and impact on the daily lives of the patients.
Allergies are generally managed by medication that alleviates the symptoms. The most common medications are antihistamines and corticosteroids. Immunotherapy is the only treatment currently known that affects the mechanism of allergy. It re-educates the immune system to tolerate the allergen, decreasing the need for medication. Immunotherapy can be administered as injections or sublingual tablets or drops, and the treatment usually takes a few years. Novel immunotherapeutic products that are under development aim for speeding up the treatment as well as improving the safety, efficacy and convenience.
Pekka Mattila, CEO