A longtime CytomX exec re-emerges at Synthekine, an $82M Stanford spinout
Debanjan Ray apparently had big plans when he quietly left his long-held CFO spot at CytomX back in March 2019. He had gotten his own biotech.
Still in its early stages at the time, that biotech, known as Synthekine, is now ready to start talking. They are breaking out of stealth mode today with $82 million in Series A funding led by Canaan Partners, Samsara BioCapital and The Column Group, and plans to rapidly bring a handful of engineered cytokines, including a rejigged IL-2, into the clinic.
“There’s been really compelling, deep durable responses in patients, but it’s not a drug that’s widely used because of the profound toxicity,” Ray told Endpoints News. “So it’s really a ripe area of drug development.”
Synthekine’s technology comes out of K. Christopher Garcia’s Stanford lab, where he has been studying cell surfaces and their ligands since 2005. The lab helped spawn a different cytokine-focused biotech earlier this year, when former lab member — and now Yale immunobiologist — Aaron Ring spun Simcha out of his work on a re-engineered IL-18.
Similar to Simcha, Synthekine will focus on developing drugs that can provide the benefits of the interleukins tried over the last two decades but without the crippling toxicities. They will also use them as potential on/off switches for CAR-T. The idea there is that you can engineer the infused T cells with a receptor for a special activating IL and doctors give more or less of that IL depending on how the patient is responding.
For now, there are two lead molecules: STK-012, an IL-2 that only partially activates its receptor, and the combination STK-009 and SYNCAR-001 — a Cd19 CAR-T therapy Ray says Synthekine developed in house and which uses their on/off approach. They expect to file an IND on the former at some point next year, Ray said.
“We think the IL-2 space has a lot of room for improvement,” Ray said.
The biotech’s science is built on combinations, he added, engineering a line of synthetic interleukins that can hit multiple receptors that natural — or “wild-type” — interleukins don’t, an approach that could drive better safety and efficacy.
For now, the biotech has set up in Menlo Park with 30 employees. Ray wouldn’t detail how much they wanted to expand and when, but he indicated they were hoping to grow quickly, with heavy investments on the discovery side.
“We’re an early stage company,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”