Ukko is developing a new type of gluten and peanut for everyone to enjoy, even those with allergies or sensitivity. Murielle Gonzalez reports
Ukko co-founders Yanat Ofran and Anat Binur
From left, Ukko co-founders Yanat Ofran and Anat Binur

Leaps by Bayer, the impact investment arm of pharmaceutical giant Bayer, has led the Series B round for Ukko, a biotech company with the mission to eliminate food allergies and sensitivities. The company has raised $40 million and is now gearing up for clinical trials with its investigational therapy for peanut allergy. The funding will also accelerate the development of a new type of gluten.

PeakBridge Ventures, Continental Grain Company, Skyviews Life Science, and Fall Line Capital participated in the round, and existing investors Khosla Ventures, Innovation Endeavors, and Time Ventures, the investment fund of Marc Benioff.

Ukko operates from offices in Tel Aviv and Palo Alto, and has developed a proprietary AI-driven protein engineering platform that allows the development of healthier foods and new types of therapeutics for those who suffer from allergies.

The platform precisely engineers food proteins to eliminate their allergenicity, while keeping their good biochemical and nutritional characteristics.

Ukko 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 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.”

Juergen Eckhardt, managing director, head of Leaps by Bayer, concurred. “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,” he said.

Eckhardt explained that one of the big challenges addressed through the Leaps investments is attempting to reverse autoimmune diseases, which have enormous impacts on the world’s food systems and 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.”

Food-to-therapy approach

The two first outcomes of the platform target gluten sensitivities, including celiac, and peanut allergies. Ukko is developing a new type of gluten that will allow bakers, food companies, and consumers to make bread, pizza, pasta, and baked goods that everyone can enjoy, even people with celiac.

Ukko scientists analyse peanut proteins for novel ingredient

The company is also using the platform to develop a new drug therapy for people with peanut allergies. The company aims to make safe immunotherapy for food allergy, thereby solving one of the biggest hurdles of current approaches – safety.

The peanut that Ukko is developing possess all the immunity-building traits of the allergen, but none of its potentially harmful characteristics.

“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, chief executive and co-founder of Ukko.

Binur continued: “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.”

The incidence of celiac disease has been doubling every 15 years. Yet, over 80% of patients remain undiagnosed, leaving them with a higher risk of developing other serious conditions like anaemia or even cancer.

In the US, 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.

Economically, food allergies and sensitivities cost more than $25 billion every year in the US, according to Food Allergy Research & Education, FARE.

Date published: 27 January 2021

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