SAN DIEGO—When it comes to pharma and biotech, funding usually means grants, corporate partnerships, investment firms, angel funders, public offerings and the like. But Batu Biologics in mid-June tried a different tack: crowdfunding via an Indiegogo campaign to assist in the completion of preclinical research to support the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submission of its novel cancer vaccine, ValloVax.
As of early July, the company reported that it had successfully raised more than 50 percent of its $100,000 target.
“We are enthusiastic at the flurry of support, which we attribute in part to the joining of UCSD cancer vaccine expert Dr. Boris Minev and industry veteran Dr. Alan Lewis to our scientific advisory board,” said Samuel Wagner, president and CEO of Batu Biologics, at the time, adding: “With 41 days left in the campaign, we are cautiously optimistic toward accomplishing our fundraising goal.”
As of July 31, though, as this issue of DDNews neared completion, a quick check of the progress online at Indiegogo showed that just over $57,000 had been raised, with 18 days left in the campaign, suggesting that reaching the total goal might not be very likely—none of which alters the novelty of Batu Biologics’ approach nor the encouraging response from the public to contribute.
According to Dimitri Theofilopoulos, chief operating officer of Batu Biologics, “To my knowledge this is the first time crowdfunding has been used by a biotechnology company to fund preclinical development. We are excited to pave the way using this innovative strategy and hope this will allow greater accessibility and opportunity for startup biotech companies in the future.”
Batu Biologics is developing a lung cancer vaccine designed to induce an immune response specifically against blood vessels that feed the lung tumors, and the company reports efficacy in inhibiting lung cancer in mouse models in a nontoxic manner. The company is raising money to secure clinical-grade manufacturing and to complete additional safety data that is required before submission of an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA.
“Given that the majority of lung cancers are diagnosed late in progression, the majority of patients have limited treatment options, which often carry a heavy burden of toxicity,” as noted by Dr. Thomas Ichim, executive chairman of Batu Biologics. “Targeting blood vessels that feed cancers has led to the blockbuster success of the drug Avastin; however, this agent only blocks one of the pathways [the VEGF pathway] associated with tumor blood vessel growth. Our current data suggests that ValloVax stimulates the immune system to block multiple biological pathways necessary for angiogenesis, thus having the potential for superior efficacy as compared to existing drugs.”
Although lung cancer is the focus for the first treatment indication and the planned IND, Batu Biologics expects that expanded indications would follow for other types of cancer. The company has filed two provisional patents in the field of cancer immunotherapy and notes that it plans to significantly expand its intellectual property this year.
As the company’s president and CEO, Samuel C. Wagner, said at the start of the crowdfunding campaign, “Batu Biologics is extremely excited to leverage crowdfunding platforms that make contributions to scientific progress easily accessible and understandable to the community. We hope to utilize this crowdfunding campaign as a stepping stone toward larger future campaigns. Batu hopes to not only progress the science behind its antiangiogenic cancer vaccine, ValloVax, but to also capitalize on the non-dilutive investment and support from the surrounding community.”
Aside from being one of the leading causes of cancer death in both men and women in the United States, Batu Biologics notes, lung cancer causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers combined (colon, breast and pancreatic), and lung cancer care costs are estimated at $14 billion per year in the United States alone.
Wagner was interviewed in mid-July by CEOCFO Magazine, a weekly industry publication that conducts in-depth interviews with corporate executives, about the vaccine efforts, and Wagner attributes this attention at least in part to the crowdfunding campaign.
“We are pleased with the Internet attention that has been generated by the launch of our crowdfunding campaign, and today’s interview is one example of this,” Wagner said after the July 17 interview. “Given the devastation that lung cancer causes on society and the apparent lack of non-toxic approaches to this condition, we are pleased with the interest garnered by public media. There is a fundamental lack of knowledge regarding lung cancer in the eyes of the public and various governmental decision makers. More attention to this cause will benefit not only Batu Biologics, but also the numerous researchers dedicated to making an impact in this terrible disease.”
Wagner was also featured in the July 21 issue of the weekly business publication the San Diego Business Journal, in which he discussed the company’s strategy in developing ValloVax.
Founded in 2013, Batu Biologics is a preclinical biopharmaceutical company focusing on developing and commercializing allogeneic cell therapies in the area of immune modulation. The company’s products are centered on the idea of creating or breaking immune tolerance. The company is currently in the preclinical stages of drug development for its two flagship products: Immstem and ValloVax.