Ukko, a biotech company with the mission to eliminate food allergies and sensitivities, announced USD 40 million in new Series B funding. Ukko harnesses artificial intelligence (AI) and protein engineering to develop healthier food and therapies for food allergies. The new funding will allow Ukko to enter clinical trials with its investigational therapeutic for peanut allergies. It will also accelerate development of Ukko’s gluten that is designed for people with celiac and other gluten sensitivities. The round was led by Leaps by Bayer – the impact investment arm of Bayer – and was joined by Continental Grain Company, Skyviews Life Science, PeakBridge Ventures, Fall Line Capital, as well as existing investors Khosla Ventures, Innovation Endeavors, and TIME Ventures, the investment fund of Marc Benioff.
Novel approach with AI-powered platform
Ukko’s novel approach uses a proprietary AI-powered platform that precisely engineers food proteins to eliminate their allergenicity, while keeping their good biochemical and nutritional characteristics. The platform uses patient samples, computational biology, immunology, and protein engineering to make proteins that do not trigger the immune system.
“We are at a unique crossroads in the history of science,” said Prof. Yanay Ofran, Chairman and Co-founder of Ukko. “Big data allows us to understand the underpinnings of food sensitivities. Computational tools allow us to precisely design the proteins that make up our bodies and our food. New genome editing technologies allow us to rewrite DNA to produce these new proteins in living cells. Ukko sits at the intersection of these breakthrough technologies, allowing us to redefine healthy food at the molecular level, based on real data.”
Ukko has already built one of the largest clinically validated molecular maps of food allergies, which unlocks critical data and allows the company a rich foundation for further innovation. Ukko has also generated promising data, based on patient samples, that suggests the company’s investigational peanut and gluten proteins do not trigger allergic reactions responses or intolerance responses in the immune system of patients.
“We are at the forefront of a revolution. Pharma and the food industry will redefine how they think about their products and missions,” said Anat Binur, CEO and Co-Founder of Ukko. “Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from food allergies and experts see it as a global epidemic. Ending food allergy is critical and is only the beginning. Ukko’s tech has the potential to leverage science and human data to redesign our food and medicine.”
Improved gluten proteins and therapy for peanut allergy
Ukko has a holistic food-to-therapy approach to solving food allergies and sensitivities. On the food side, Ukko is working on improved gluten proteins that are especially designed for people with celiac and other gluten sensitivities, which allows bakers, food companies, and home cooks to make delicious bread, pizza, pasta, and baked goods that everyone can eat. On the therapeutic side, Ukko is using its protein design platform to develop a new and promising investigational therapy for peanut allergy. Ukko’s future pipeline includes plans to address additional major food allergens.
“Ukko’s investigative approaches to solving allergies and food sensitivities both from the food side and the patient therapeutics side have the possibility of delivering enormous benefits for humanity,” said Juergen Eckhardt, MD, Head of Leaps by Bayer, which was built to drive fundamental breakthroughs in the fields of health and agriculture through new technologies. “One of the big challenges we’re addressing through our Leaps investments is attempting to reverse autoimmune diseases, which have enormous impacts on our health systems in every community around the globe. We are proud to lead this investment in Ukko and help solve the biggest allergies and food sensitivities. It is a great fit to our global leadership role in both health and nutrition.”
“I have been a witness to my patients’ growing urgency to discover a cure for food allergies. While there are tremendous breakthroughs coming from the research and biotech worlds, safety remains a significant hurdle. Ukko’s efforts to solve these challenges for allergies and sensitivities is one of the most promising and exciting approaches I have seen” said Prof. Lynda Schneider, Director of the Allergy Program at Boston Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Number of people suffering food allergies to climb in the coming years
Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from food allergies and experts predict the numbers will continue to climb in the coming years. In the U.S. alone, one in 13 children has food allergies (about two in every classroom) and every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room. The incidence of celiac disease has been doubling every 15 years and – even at that rate of growth – over 80 per cent of patients remain undiagnosed, leaving these people with higher risk for developing other serious conditions like anemia or even cancer. Economically, food allergies and sensitivities cost more than USD 25 billion every year in the U.S. alone and place enormous strain on families, communities, the healthcare system, and the ag and food industries.
Ukko has formed an Advisory Board that includes some of the world’s top clinical experts in food allergy and sensitivities, and experts in food and agriculture innovation. The Advisory Board supports the company on the policy, business strategy, science, and clinical aspects of Ukko’s work. Some of Ukko’s advisors include Bernhard Van Lengerich, Former Chief Science Officer & Vice President for Technology Strategy at General Mills; Ann M. Veneman, Former US Secretary of Agriculture; Dr. Wesley A. Burks, Executive Dean for the Univ. of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine; Dr. Edwin Kim, Associate Professor, Allergy & Immunology Program Director, UNC Food Allergy Initiative; Dr. Kari Nadeau, Director of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University; Prof. Lynda Schneider, Director, Allergy Program Boston Children’s Hospital Professor of Pediatrics Harvard Medical School; and Prof. Raanan Shamir, Chairman, Institute of Gastroenterology, Nutrition and Liver Diseases at Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel.