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A visualization shows T-cells communicating via the immune synapse. (Credit: Alpine BioVentures)

Seattle’s Alpine Immune Sciences says it has closed a $48 million Series A financing round, to fund the development of next-generation therapies that tweak the body’s immune system to fight cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Immunotherapy ranks among the hottest topics in cancer research nowadays. The company’s executive chairman and acting CEO, Mitchell Gold, said in a statement that the new infusion of investment “recognizes the tremendous potential” for the field and for Alpine Immune Sciences.

Alpine Immune Sciences

“AIS is taking a unique approach to modulating the immune system through the directed evolution of naturally occurring ligands – creating the next generation of cancer and autoimmune therapeutics with our vIgD platform,” Gold said.

The company is working on drugs that can activate the immune system to attack cancer cells, or keep the immune system from attacking healthy cells. The stand-down effect could ease such autoimmune disorders as Crohn’s disease, lupus and arthritis. The key to the company’s scientific strategy is vIgD, which stands for “variant immunoglobulin domain.”

Gold was the CEO of the now-defunct biotech startup Dendreon as well as the founder of a health-care investment firm called Alpine BioVentures. He helped get AIS started last year with seed money from Alpine BioVentures. Last October, AIS signed a licensing deal with Kite Pharma that could be worth as much as $530 million if the company’s strategy is successful.

The newly closed financing round was led by OrbiMed Advisors, with additional investment from Frazier Heathcare Partners and Alpine BioVentures. OrbiMed’s Peter Thompson and Frazier’s Jamie Topper will join AIS’ board. Jay Venkatesan, managing partner at Alpine BioVentures, is AIS’ president.

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