The Bill Gates-backed antibody therapeutics developer Visterra said today it acquired an exclusive license from MIT to a family of early-stage monoclonal antibodies that target dengue virus. The family of four antibodies was all discovered in the lab of a Visterra founder, Ram Sasisekharan, Ph.D., Alfred H. Caspary Professor of Biological Engineering and Health Sciences & Technology at MIT, using protein engineering approaches.

The price of that acquisition was not disclosed—though the company also said today it will use $8.1 million in Series A venture financing to advance its pipeline of antibodies that target infectious diseases, in an expansion of its disease area focus through strategic partnerships.

Visterra said it will use the $8.1 million in part to launch Phase I clinical trials for its lead antibody product candidate VIS410. The broad-spectrum monoclonal antibody is designed to prevent and treat both seasonal and pandemic influenza.

Visterra aims to develop a human monoclonal antibody product candidate capable of broadly neutralizing all four dengue virus serotypes, using its antibody engineering technology. The network analysis technology is designed to generate unique structural information that identifies novel target epitopes, as well as guide the design of antibodies which specifically target these epitopes to effectively combat disease.

VIS140 is intended to neutralize all influenza strains—including H1N1, H3N2, and H5N1 or Avian Flu—by inhibiting fusion of the influenza hemagglutinin (HA) protein with the cell membrane. Visterra’s technology has identified an epitope on the HA protein’s stem region that has been mapped by peptide scanning. The epitope has been found to not only be conserved across all influenza subtypes, but is also resistant to virus mutation.

Visterra says it has used its protein engineering method to design more than 50 human antibodies that bind to and neutralize viruses from both Group 1 (i.e., H1, H5, H9) and Group 2 (i.e., H3, H7) influenza strains.

“We have achieved significant progress to date with VIS410, our novel monoclonal antibody for seasonal and pandemic flu, and the licensing of the dengue virus antibodies substantially enhances our infectious diseases pipeline,” Brian J. G. Pereira, M.D., Visterra’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

In addition to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, existing investors in Visterra include Polaris Partners, Flagship Ventures, Lux Capital, and Omega Funds. All five entities participated in the latest financing, as well as members of management and employees. The new funding increases to $34.2 million the total proceeds received to date from Series A backers.

Also today, Visterra said it appointed two industry veterans to newly created roles: David Arkowitz has joined the company as COO and CFO, while Greg Miller will serve as VP of business development and strategic planning. Those hires come five months after Visterra named its current president and CEO, Brian Pereira, M.D., in July.

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