Drug Development, Startups

An upstart immunotherapy biotech emerges from stealth mode with big love for Kendall Square

Daniel Passeri, Cue Biopharma

When Ron Seidel and Rodolfo “Rudy” Chaparro had to sit down and decide where to base their new biotech, the two investigators at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York could have gone just about anywhere in the US that they wanted. Staying in New York would have worked. One had family in California to consider. But a year ago, they chose Cambridge, MA, and started building their team in a place on Kendall Square.

The company is Cue BioPharma. Their mission is to develop drugs that can command and control a selective T cell response, either dialing up or dialing down a T cell attack. It’s one of the busiest tech crossroads in biotech, and they chose one of the busiest hubs to pursue some ambitious goals.

“We believe that this is the epicenter of the biotech world,” says Seidel. If you want to find the top talent and push new technology at a rapid speed, he adds, Cambridge is the place to do it.

Today, after working on their development platform for 5 years — with considerable help from the NIH — Seidel and Chaparro are stepping out of stealth mode after raising $10 million in seed cash and $16.4 million in a recent round led by MDB Capital Group. And a few months ago Daniel Passeri, the former CEO at Curis, stepped in to helm the enterprise, with plans to continue to grow the team this year.

Like a lot of startups with a development platform and lots of work to do, Passeri is pursuing early partnership talks with some key players in the immunotherapeutic arena, which has become quite a crowd.

Cue is building a complex therapeutic, marrying a costimulatory molecule with a T cell receptor-targeting peptide on an antibody scaffold to orchestrate a specific T cell response. The peptide finds the T cells they need and the biologic delivers an engineered ligand. And when you change the components, you should be able to change the specific effect.

To put it another way, Passeri tells me, it’s like doing what you want to do with a CAR-T, but through a molecule rather than an ex vivo engineering process. This is second-gen immunotherapeutic work, ideal for checkpoint collaborations, and the CEO expects to have the lead candidate for HPV selected soon, with plans to go into the clinic in H1 2018.

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