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Roche, Pfizer, Bristol Myers back immune disease firm Cour Pharmaceuticals

The $105 million series A will be put toward 2 clinical-stage drugs

by Rowan Walrath
January 30, 2024


An illustration of a light blue sphere containing blue protein molecules inside and yellow negative charges on the surface.
Credit: Cour Pharmaceuticals
Cour Pharmaceuticals’ platform uses polymer nanoparticles containing protein molecules (blue) inside.

More than a decade after its founding, Cour Pharmaceuticals has raised $105 million in series A funding as it advances two immune disease drugs through clinical trials.

Roche, Pfizer, and Bristol Myers Squibb have invested in the Chicago-based company. They joined Lumira Ventures and Alpha Wave Ventures, which co-led the new round. The money will be put toward drugs for myasthenia gravis—a rare and chronic autoimmune disorder in which antibodies break down communication between nerves and muscles—and type 1 diabetes. Cour has Phase 2 trials in progress in both diseases.

Cour’s drugs are nanoparticles, about 500 nm wide, that consist of antigenic proteins wrapped inside a proprietary polymer. Once a patient takes the nanoparticles intravenously, white blood cells called monocytes take up the nanoparticles and transport them to the spleen and liver.

A man in glasses and a suit standing in front of a glass wall.
Credit: Cour Pharmaceuticals
John Puisis

There, the monocytes present the disease-specific antigens to the adaptive immune system, inducing a T regulatory response. Without inflammatory signals, adaptive immune T cells perceive the antigen as self, so they don’t trigger an autoimmune response. This essentially teaches the body tolerance to antigens specific to diseases like myasthenia gravis and type 1 diabetes. “You can actually get the immune system to reprogram itself,” founder and CEO John Puisis says.

Cour’s platform is based on work by immunobiologist Stephen Miller of Northwestern University, who fine-tuned it with the help of University of Michigan polymer chemist Lonnie Shea. Puisis and his team licensed the technology in 2014 and formed Cour around it.

Cour first tested the platform in celiac disease, where its drug managed to reverse the effects of dietary gluten exposure in animal models, according to data the firm presented at a scientific meeting in June 2015.

Six months later, Takeda Pharmaceutical partnered with Cour to continue developing that drug, and in 2019 the Japanese company bought an exclusive license for up to $420 million. Cour has a similar partnership with Ironwood Pharmaceuticals to treat primary biliary cholangitis, an autoimmune disease involving the bile ducts.

The venture funding Cour announced Tuesday is earmarked to advance the company’s own pipeline — not partnered programs. Puisis says the focus on internal development is a deliberate business decision, despite a difficult fundraising environment for biotech start-ups.

That said, Puisis believes the equity investment from three large pharmaceutical companies is validation that Big Pharma is increasingly interested in antigen-specific immune tolerance.

“The drug industry wants to be in this space,” he says, but adds: “Our priority is getting in the clinic with the programs we selected.”



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