Monday, May 23, 2005

Name: Alba Therapeutics

Location: Baltimore

Funding: The company raised $2 million in seed money from Astellas Pharma, formerly Fujisawa Pharmaceutical; Esperance BioVentures; and angel investors. Alba also received $300,000 from the Maryland Business and Economic Development Department; $75,000 from Maryland's Technology Development Corp.; and $70,000 from the University of Maryland's Maryland Industrial Partnerships program. The company is in discussions with several venture funds for a Series A funding round.

Big idea: Alba is working on cloning a receptor for a protein called zonulin that regulates structures in the human body known as tight junctions. Tight junctions sit between cells, acting as barriers in the linings of the lungs, blood vessels, skin cells and the gastrointestinal tract. They help keep the body's fluids where they belong. Alba is developing and commercializing drugs based on zonulin.

How it works: "Zonulin is the garage-door opener that causes the junctions to open," said Blake Paterson, co-founder and chief executive. He said it can be used to deliver drugs, such as insulin through the gut, or to block the passage of fluids containing antigens that cause autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and celiac disease, commonly known as gluten intolerance.

"We're focusing initially on a blocker," Paterson said. "Our first two diseases are celiac disease and Type 1 diabetes." Paterson said Alba has been able to "shut down" Type 1 diabetes in rats by manipulating the zonulin pathway. "We have great hopes that this will be taken as a pill before meals to allow us to treat celiac disease, then Type 1 diabetes."

Where the idea was hatched: Alessio Fasano, a professor at the University of Maryland, discovered the role of zonulin. Alba Therapeutics spun off from the university last year.

Founded: April 2004

Who's in charge: Blake M. Paterson, co-founder and chief executive; Alessio Fasano, co-founder and chief scientific officer.

Employees: Six. Company executives anticipate "ramping up dramatically" after they complete their Series A funding round and hope to move to a new space in the UMB Biopark in Baltimore, which is under construction.

Web site:

What the name means: "Alba means 'the dawn' or 'the new awakening' in Latin, Italian and Spanish," Paterson said.

Quote: "We're turning the entire science upside down," Paterson said. "We're proposing a radical departure from the field of autoimmunity."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company