By Adam Vaccaro
The Boston Globe
December 29, 2016
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is investing $50 million in Boston-based biotech firm Intarcia Therapeutics and plans to contribute another $90 million to the company in an effort to better prevent HIV in Africa.
The Gates Foundation money will help fund a preventive HIV treatment based on a “mini-pump” technology Intarcia developed that also could be used to treat type 2 diabetes.
“There’s a vital need for an HIV/AIDS intervention that allows those at risk to incorporate prevention more easily into their daily lives,” Gates foundation chief executive Sue Desmond-Hellmann said in a statement.
The announcement comes about six months after Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist and cofounder of Microsoft, created a buzz around Intarcia by visiting its Seaport District office. Three months ago, Intarcia announced an ongoing funding round that would value the company around $4 billion.
In November, Intarcia filed for federal approval of its “mini-pump” technology to deliver drugs to treat type 2 diabetes. The pump is filled with drugs and implanted under patients’ skin near their abdomen. Body fluids are used to activate the device, which delivers medicine regularly for months at a time.
Intarcia spokesman Greg Baird said the system is meant to limit the kind of “human behavior” that sometimes makes drug treatments ineffective — such as when patients forget to take a dose or fail to use a medicine as prescribed.
While Intarcia’s type 2 treatment is focused on helping people already afflicted with the disease, the Gates Foundation-funded HIV initiative will center on a prophylactic treatment to prevent the spread of the virus.
The Gates Foundation lists HIV prevention and treatment as one of its chief goals. Emilio Emini, the foundation’s director of HIV programs, said that currently “there is no effective HIV vaccine, and antiretroviral drugs that protect against HIV infection are only available in the form of a daily pill.”
The partnership with Intarcia “has the potential to solve current adherence challenges and help more people protect themselves from HIV infection,” he said.
Intarcia Thursday said it had raised a total of $206 million, of which $50 million is from the Gates Foundation. The foundation will provide another $90 million in grant funding as the program develops.
Baird said the Gates Foundation might provide even more funding beyond that $140 million commitment.
The funding is the second phase of a long-term plan. In September, the company raised $215 million, and it said Thursday it has a “third and final” leg of money-raising expected for the first quarter of 2017.
Intarcia chief executive Kurt Graves was not available for an interview. In a news release, he said Intarcia is “aiming to solve some of the biggest unmet needs in the treatment and prevention of major chronic diseases that impact millions and millions of lives every day.”
The company in 2014 moved its headquarters to Boston from California.
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