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Outwitting immunity to treat disease: Start-up raises 37 millions dollars
Date:5/5/2014

What do multiple sclerosis, type I diabetes and food allergies have in common? All these conditions are caused by an abnormal immune response; white blood cells that attack their own body cells or overreact to external elements. In EPFL's Innovation Park, the start-up company Anokion is developing an extremely promising technology to treat autoimmune conditions and other maladies. The first clinical trials are planned for 2017.

And the range of applications isn't just limited to autoimmune disease. The body also develops immune reactions to many protein drugs used to treat hemophilia and cancer, for example, and Anokion's approach may be able to prevent these reactions as well. Now, a group of venture capitalists specializing in pharmaceuticals (Novartis Venture Fund, Novo Ventures and Versant Ventures) has recognized the potential and injected 37 million dollars (33 million Swiss francs) into the young company.

How to trick the immune system

Anokion's technology takes advantage of a behavior exhibited by white blood cells that is still not very well understood. These cells, the advance guard of the immune system, tend to calm down in the presence of cells that are dying normally at the end of their life cycle. Their cousins, the red blood cells, do just that in healthy individuals, turning over en masse on the order of 200 million per day.

The researchers developed a technique to attach the protein responsible for triggering the immune response onto these red blood cells. A bit like Pavlov's dogs, who learned to associate the sound of a bell with the appearance of food, the white blood cells associate the "foreign" protein with the millions of calming messages released every day by the red blood cells as they expire. The undesirable immune response disappears. In 2012, the EPFL laboratory led by Jeffrey Hubbell used this technique to prevent disease in mice that were developing type I diabetes. The research was published
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Contact: Lionel Pousaz
lionel.pousaz@epfl.ch
41-795-597-161
Ecole Polytechnique Fdrale de Lausanne
Source:Eurekalert

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