A pair of Lyell founders look to shift the cell therapy paradigm — and they've got $30M to get their plan off the ground
Rick Klausner’s Lyell has taken the cell therapy field by storm, recruiting an All-Star team with the goal of creating the first CAR-Ts for solid tumors. But the company may have been too productive — too good at its job — theorizing more potential therapies than it could handle alone.
As a result, some of that research has been spun out into a new biotech called Outpace Bio, with Lyell founders and former co-directors of cell and protein engineering Marc Lajoie and Scott Boyken, getting things started with a $30 million Series A on Wednesday. Lyell itself is one of the lead investors in the round and is also teaming up with Outpace in a collaboration for T cell therapies against solid tumors.
Lajoie is taking the reins as CEO with Boyken filling the CSO role. The duo said they first started thinking about spinning out back in June, got the initial operation up and running last November and closed the financing last month.
The quick advances point toward an early validation of their approach and a hefty investor appetite for their partner-focused business model, Lajoie told Endpoints News.
“It’s not a familiar pattern to a lot of investors, and we’re super happy with our syndicate,” Lajoie said. “They all see the broader vision here that really, in order for cell therapies to be successful, we’re going to need to make step change in how we can program cells to be more efficacious.”
Outpace’s big idea is to pioneer the next generation of cell therapies through many different approaches. One prominent area is in de novo proteins. Whereas proteins evolved over millions of years to perform specific functions, de novo proteins can be programmed to execute different tasks, allowing Outpace to control biology in a way that can’t be done naturally, Boyken said.
Some of the founders’ early research here grabbed headlines, earning a feature in the Washington Post two years ago — the work came from Lajoie and Boyken’s time in David Baker’s lab at the University of Washington.
But de novo protein design is just one of the many tools in Outpace’s toolbox. With the interdisciplinary team they’ve assembled, Lajoie and Boyken hope to shift the line of thought in the cell therapy field into one that focuses more on how cells make decisions and how they respond in the right way at the right time.
“Cells are the unit of coordinating all functions, and when you have these diseases like cancer and autoimmunity, those are really caused by cells making the wrong decisions,” Lajoie said. “What we want to be able to do is harness that complexity of cells in order to be able to address those problems, which are really just cells telling other cells the wrong thing.”
The partnership with Lyell will keep things close to the original family, but also gives Outpace a prominent colleague as it looks to make a name on its own. By locking down this collaboration and also focusing on future team ups, it lets the biotech “cover a lot of ground scientifically,” Lajoie noted.
Here, they’ll be honing in on the biology of cytokines, shooting for improved efficacy in cancer while trying to avoid the toxicity that comes with it. Outpace is still working on internal pipeline development, which Lajoie says will provide the foundation of its partnership model.
And it’s that model where Outpace sees the field going in the future.
“We really think that this technology and this model is really needed for the cell therapy space right now,” Boyken said. “In addition to the Lyell partnerships, all the conversations we’ve been having as well as our initial Series A has really proved that that is the case. And we feel really validated that this is a model that’s going to work.”
In addition to Lyell, Wednesday’s round was also led by ARTIS Ventures. Additional participation came from Abstract Ventures, Civilization Ventures, Mubadala Capital, Playground Global, Sahsen Ventures, and WRF Capital.