Pharma Firm Bets Sialic Acid Could Help Explain Link Between Diet and Inflammatory Diseases

August 5, 2013
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inflammatory diseasesFirst published in MedCityNews.

A syndicate of East Coast angel investors pieced together $1 million to help a bicoastal startup commercialize products it thinks may prevent disease-causing inflammation linked to consumption of animal products like red meat and dairy.

inflammatory diseasesFirst published in MedCityNews.

A syndicate of East Coast angel investors pieced together $1 million to help a bicoastal startup commercialize products it thinks may prevent disease-causing inflammation linked to consumption of animal products like red meat and dairy.

Ajit Varki, a University of San Diego professor, founded Sialix Inc. in 2006 based on a decade of research on a family of sugars called sialic acids. One of these acids, N-glycolylneuraminic acid, has been found in human tumors even though humans can’t produce it.

The hypothesis behind Sialix is that humans ingest this acid when they eat red meat and dairy products, and when it’s incorporated into the surface of human cells, the body thinks it is a foreign antigen and produces an inflammatory immune response. That could help explain the association between intake of red meat and the risk of certain cancers, heart attacks, strokes, obesity and diabetes, the company posits.

It’s simultaneously developing two products: an antibody targeting solid tumors including ovarian, breast and colon cancers, and a nutritional supplement designed to tame the immune response to non-human sialic acid. Researchers have been exploring the idea that anti-inflammatory drugs may have a preventative effect against certain cancers since the 1970s.

Sialix has been chipping away at a Series B round since back in 2011. Now it’s added another $1 million from members of Boston Harbor Angels, Mass Medic Angels, Launchpad Angels and Maine Angels.

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Late last year the company opened an office in Kendall Square in Cambridge and then entered Janssen Labs, the life science business accelerator established by Johnson & Johnson in La Jolla, California. It also landed an option agreement with Momenta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:MNTA) which could potentially license a monoclonal antibody therapeutic from the startup.

 [Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos user Franky242]