Photo of insulin bottles

CWRU-founded Thermalin Inc. gains French partner, new round of funding to discover and develop diabetes therapies

Cleveland-based Theramalin Inc., a privately held company founded by a Case Western Reserve University diabetes researcher, has partnered with Sanofi, a multi-national pharmaceutical firm, in a collaboration that involves $17.5 million in venture-capital financing for new insulin therapies.

The partnership with Sanofi, which led the round of “Series A” financing, represents one of the largest research and development commitments to next-generation insulin formulations for diabetes. The financial investment will accelerate and broaden Thermalin’s ability to develop and discover new therapies.

Photo of Michael Weiss
Michael Weiss

“This alliance will allow us to rapidly move our advances in insulin analog design from the bench to the bedside,” said Thermalin founder Michael Weiss, MD, PhD, the Cowan-Blum Professor of Cancer Research and professor of biomedical engineering, biochemistry and medicine and director of the Institute for Therapeutic Protein Engineering at Case Western Reserve University.

The round of financing is being led by Sanofi, with JSR・mblVC LifeScience Investment Limited Partnership (a Tokyo-based fund), Green Park & Golf Ventures (a Dallas-based fund), Thermalin’s existing investors and other undisclosed investors.

Case Western Reserve’s history with Thermalin began a decade ago.

Weiss founded what was originally Thermalin Diabetes in 2007 with advice and guidance from CWRU Chief Innovation Officer Joseph Jankowski, who directed the university’s Technology Transfer Office (TTO) at the time, and Carol Clark, a former vice president at BioEnterprise.

The university completed its first license agreement for CWRU intellectual property with Thermalin in 2009. BioEnterprise, founded in 2002 as a shared resource among Cleveland’s biomedical institutions, provided key initial guidance on Thermalin’s applications to the National Institutes of Health for small-business grants.

“We’ve had a long and fruitful partnership with Thermalin,” said Michael Haag, executive director of technology management at Case Western Reserve. “I am excited for Dr. Weiss and the entire Thermalin team. Moreover, I am excited for Cleveland; Thermalin has and will continue to invest in personnel in the Cleveland area.”

Thermalin is engineering new forms of insulin to lower the burden of insulin use, increase patient adoption of and adherence to insulin therapy and lower the cost of caring for people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

With the new round of investment, Thermalin will invest in ongoing research in Weiss’s lab, “so we anticipate this will continue to be a close collaboration under his guidance,” Haag said.

Weiss, who began studying insulin more than three decades ago as a student in the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences & Technology, foresees a renaissance in the field.

“We are just beginning to learn how targeted modifications of the insulin molecule can tune both its own properties and the downstream signaling functions of the insulin receptor,” Weiss said. “An exciting synergy is emerging between protein engineering and delivery devices, such as algorithm-controlled ‘smart’ insulin pumps. Biochemistry and biomedical engineering may together address unmet clinical needs to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.”

The Case Western Reserve research team also includes Faramarz Ismail-Beigi, MD, PhD, professor of medicine in the Division of Clinical and Molecular Endocrinology, and Nelson Phillips, PhD, an associate professor in biochemistry, who will work closely with Thermalin and Sanofi. Both are with Case Western Reserve’s School of Medicine.