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Shawn Iadonato. Photo via Kineta.
Shawn Iadonato. Photo via Kineta.

Seattle-based biotech startup Kineta today announced that it won a $7.2 million award to develop an antiviral drug therapy for treating Lassa haemorrhagic fever.

The money comes from The Wellcome Trust, a London-based global charitable foundation focused on healthcare-related contributions. Kineta will use the milestone-based award for manufacturing, preclinical development, regulatory filings, and initial human clinical studies for a drug therapy called LHF-535.

“We are excited to collaborate with the Wellcome Trust on our Lassa fever program,” Kineta’s CEO Shawn Iadonato said in a statement. “They are a global leader in supporting research and improving health in infectious diseases, and we are honored to join the community of Wellcome Trust researchers.”

Iadonato noted that Lassa fever is a viral disease with no approved treatment options. There are between 100,000 to 300,000 Lassa virus infections each year in west Africa, with 5,000 deaths annually, according to estimates from the CDC.

Here’s how the company describes LHF-535:

LHF-535 is a small molecule antiviral with potent activity against Lassa and other arenaviruses. It inhibits virus entry into target host cells and serves to suppress viral replication. LHF-535 is an optimized lead compound with good oral bioavailability and pharmacokinetics, supporting once-daily administration. It has demonstrated safety and efficacy in preclinical models, including reduced virus titers and enhanced survival in animal models of arenavirus pathogenesis. A clear development path for LHF-535 was established after a successful pre-IND interaction with FDA in mid-2015.

Kineta has raised more than $40 million since it began operating in 2008 and was part of a group that won a $10 million contract from the National Institute of Health in 2014. The company is also part of a Seattle-based consortium known as KPI Therapeutics that is supporting Kineta’s efforts to take a pipeline of promising new drugs through clinical trials and bring them to market more efficiently.

Kineta employs 39 people at its headquarters in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. The company was founded by Iadonato and Charless Magness, who previously sold their Seattle-based biotech company Illumigen Biosciences to Cubist Pharmaceuticals.

There are a handful of other Seattle-based biotech companies also using immunotherapy to fight disease, including Seattle Genetics and Juno Therapeutics.

It’s also one of about 800 life sciences companies in Washington state that employ nearly 100,000 people. There were more than $3 billion in life science transactions in 2015 in Washington state, up from $1.6 billion in 2014. Companies such as Adaptive Biotechnologies and organizations like the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are giving the industry new weight.

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