CAR-T, Startups

An elite team of young, transpacific scientists out of Harvard and MIT starts plowing next-gen cell therapy tech field

This isn’t the complete story about the latest biotech upstart to raise its head in the cell therapy field. It’s not even half the story. But it is an intriguing glimpse — based largely on the people who are involved.

Xi Chen

Even before the first CAR-Ts hit the market, just about everyone who was anyone in the field had set their sights on the next leg of the clinical journey. Impressive as they were in the first pivotal trials, cell therapies bristled with limitations related to the kind of cells they relied on, their easily exhausted state that blunted durability and a lean selection that would benefit from more powerful dosing.

Those are a few of the problems, and a little startup named RootPath has set out to tackle them. 

“We cant disclose 100%,” says CEO Xi Chen, who was a postdoc fellow at the Wyss Institute, in what would prove to be something of an understatement. RootPath, he said, is still in stealth mode to a significant degree.

Le Cong

Chen and a group of scientists that includes Le Cong — a high-profile young scientist who graduated from Tsinghua University, played a marquee role in Feng Zhang’s CRISPR lab at The Broad and now works as an associate professor at Stanford — started RootPath. The inner circle includes Yinqing Li, newly installed at Tsinghua U after getting his PhD at MIT, and founding scientist Ely Porter. Harvard Med researcher and MIT grad Cheryl Cui is also on board.

Yinqing Li

We know that they have some insights into conquering those hurdles that remain, like so many other companies, but there’s very little insight offered into exactly what they mean when they talk about working in single-cell analysis and manipulation at a high-throughput level.

Ely Porter

Their objectives, though, have a wide following: Getting better T cell populations to engineer as personalized anti-cancer therapies, with greater durability and much better specificity. And let’s throw in easier to manufacture, to ensure a tight turnaround. The same could be said for a dozen or more rival research groups.

The group just garnered $7 million in seed cash to get going, with Sequoia China jumping in alongside Volcanics Venture,  BV  (Baidu  Ventures) and  Nest.Bio Ventures, which helped the group get started last year. 

It’s not a lot to go on. But as the biotech industry in China, the US and Europe continues to spark new, global initiatives like this, these execs have a chance to play a role in creating the next chapter of the drug development industry.


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