JDRF T1D Fund’s Katie Ellias

From our Women's PE Briefs - week commencing July 12, 2021

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When Katie Ellias, managing director of the JDRF T1D Fund, guided the venture philanthropy fund into Protomer Technologies, Inc. last fall, she said the therapeutic that the Pasadena, Calif. company was developing could be a “game changer” for people with type 1 diabetes. Well, fellow investor Eli Lilly and Company feels similarly as it has agreed to acquire Protomer in a transaction that could end up being worth more than $1 billion. “I am thrilled about this significant outcome for Protomer and what it means for the entire T1D community,” said Katie. “It has been very rewarding to work closely with the Protomer team over the past years and it is very exciting to see the program find a great home with Lilly.”

The amount invested by JDRF T1D and Eli Lilly in Protomer last November was not disclosed. Protomer also had received backing from Sanofi. Eli Lilly owned 14 percent after its investment and is acquiring the rest. It did not say how much it is providing up front, only that the more than $1 billion price tag is tied to “successful achievement of future development and commercial milestones.” Katie said the T1D Fund’s share of any future returns from Protomer “will be realized over the course of several years, if, and when agreed-upon development and commercial milestones are achieved.” She said that, as with any of its investments, any returns generated will be recycled into the fund for redeployment against its mission goals. The T1D Fund is a non-profit venture philanthropy vehicle dedicated to accelerating the investment market for cures and life changing therapies for T1D.

Protomer is developing protein therapeutics that can sense molecular activators in the body. The company’s platform enables the development of therapeutic peptides and proteins with tunable activity that can be controlled using small molecules. The company is using this approach to develop a portfolio of therapeutic candidates, including a glucose responsive insulin that can sense sugar levels in the blood and automatically activate as needed throughout the day. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Although it can develop in adults, it typically is diagnosed during childhood or adolescence. There is no cure. Treatment revolves around managing blood sugar levels with insulin, diet and lifestyle. Protomer was founded in 2015 by researchers at the California Institute of Technology.

“While not a cure, this kind of highly advanced insulin therapy, which automatically senses and activates in response to sugar levels in the blood represents a potential major-breakthrough for people on insulin and could substantially improve the lives of people with diabetes,” Katie said. She said that the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the T1D Fund actually supported Protomer prior to its inception so “the exciting approach and technology have been known to us for several years. The promise of a true glucose-sensing insulin has been a longstanding priority of JDRF’s, as it has the potential to significantly reduce the daily burden of people who rely on insulin therapy.” She said that while the fund is “primarily focused” on equity investments to advance cures or disease modifying therapies, it will “occasionally invest in treatments that have the potential to fundamentally transform the lives of people living with T1D, while work to develop cures continues. Protomer is one of these investments.” She added that “as one of the leaders in the field of diabetes,” Lilly “brings substantial resources that will be needed to move Protomer’s technology toward the clinic, and thus a step closer to people living with T1D. We believe Lilly and the Protomer team are well-positioned for continued success.”

In a statement, Ruth Gimeno, vice president, diabetes research and clinical investigation at Lilly, said the company has “long strived to make life better for people living with diabetes and we have a continued determination to provide real solutions, including innovation in insulin therapy. Glucose-sensing insulin is the next frontier and has the potential to revolutionize the treatment and quality of life of people with diabetes by dramatically improving both therapeutic efficacy and safety of insulin therapy. Protomer’s glucose-sensing insulin program, based on its proprietary molecular engineering of protein sensors platform, is showing significant promise and Lilly is excited to enhance our diabetes pipeline with the company’s innovative technology.”

Protomer is the second significant liquidity event that JDRF T1D has had in the past two years. In 2020, another of its portfolio companies, Pandion Therapeutics, Inc., went public. JDRF T1D’s investments also include Repertoire Immune Medicines, i2O, IM Therapeutics and Immunocore, whose CEO is Bahija Jallal. Katie joined JDRF T1D in 2018 from Endeavour Vision. The JDRF T1D Fund is focused on accelerating life-changing solutions to cure, prevent and treat type 1 diabetes through equity investments.

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