‘A Little Company With A Big Vision’: Temple Spinout Advancing New Way To Treat Autoimmune Disorders

A Temple University spinout working on a new way to treat autoimmune disorders has been approved to begin human testing of a potential treatment for an inflammatory liver disease.

SFA Therapeutics of Jenkintown received Food and Drug Administration clearance to begin a Phase 1 clinical trial of the company’s new drug candidate SFA-001N, which it is developing to treat non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH.

Ira Spector, CEO and co-founder of SFA Therapeutics, called the FDA’s action a “significant milestone” for the 6-year-old company, which also has another new drug candidate, SFA-002, in early stage clinical testing as a potential treatment for psoriasis.

“By expanding our pipeline to a new therapeutic area, we have the opportunity to demonstrate that our novel microbiome-derived drug development platform has the potential to address a wide range of autoimmune and chronic inflammatory conditions in multiple organs,” Spector said.

Spector told the Business Journal the company is in the process of attempting to raise $25 million in a Series A round to advance its platform and pipeline of six small molecule drug candidates.

The company raised $4 million last year through a seed round led by Acequia Capital and North South Ventures. Other investors included Boost VC, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, INP Capital, Savantus Ventures, Asymmetry Ventures, and Reinforced Ventures.

SFA Therapeutics’ goal is to develop safer microbiome-based therapeutics using research licensed from Temple University. That research demonstrated that the metabolites — substances made by bacteria in the microbiome of the gastrointestinal tract — are beneficial in addressing inflammation found in autoimmune diseases.

Spector said he got involved in launching the company thanks to a lunch gathering in the mid-2010s where he met Mark Feitelson.

“There was a classic, ‘What do you do? What do you do?’ around the table,” Spector recalled.

Feitelson said he was a professor at Temple University working on a drug to block the progression of hepatitis B to liver cancer, and mentioned he was having trouble getting potential investors interested. Spector talked about his background in drug development at companies including Allergan, Pfizer and ICON.

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