BioWorld International Correspondent

Kenta Biotech AG, a newly formed spinout from Berna Biotech AG, raised about CHF10 million (US$8.2 million) in first-round funding to develop a pipeline of fully human monoclonal antibodies for treating hospital-acquired, life-threatening infections.

The company, located in Berna's premises in Berne, Switzerland, is commercializing a technology for generating fully human monoclonal antibodies derived from B cells isolated from immunocompetent individuals. While at Berna Biotech, Kenta's chief scientific officer, Alois Lang, developed a method for selecting and culturing antibody-producing B cells and then immortalizing them, using a heteromyeloma cell line as the fusion partner.

"Many companies have tried, and no one [else] has been successful, so far," Kenta CEO Violetta Georgescu-Kyburz told BioWorld International.

The company's lead product, KBPA101, for Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection, has completed a Phase I trial and is about to enter Phase II. Several other antibodies against the same pathogen are in preclinical development. It also has preclinical programs for antibodies against undisclosed viruses associated with respiratory infection and against Staphylococcus aureus.

It is positioning those therapeutics as a complement rather than a competitor to antibiotics.

"Where we see a good chance for our products is where antibiotics, even in combination, really don't work any more," Georgescu-Kyburz said. Although antibiotics are distinctly cheaper than monoclonal antibodies, the overall cost of treating infection rises once patients move to intensive care. Kenta believes it can play a role in alleviating some of those costs.

However, it first needs to obtain efficacy data. "In animal models, we could prove that our concept worked. It's up to the Phase II trial to see whether it works in humans as well," she said.

Kenta aims to broaden its pipeline through collaboration. It also plans to develop human monoclonal antibodies for third parties on a fee-for-service basis. However, it plans to retain tight control over its antibody platform. "We are not seeking to license our technology out to other companies," Georgescu-Kyburz said.

Berna Biotech, now owned by Crucell NV, of Leiden, the Netherlands, following their merger earlier this year, retains a 36.7 percent stake in the new venture. Its management, plus four private, individual investors, hold the remaining 63.2 percent.

The spinout had been planned "long before" the merger with Crucell became a possibility, Georgescu-Kyburz said, as the area was outside Berna Biotech's core of developing and producing vaccines.