As UK biotech gains steam, Syncona launches new Treg player while Cambridge spinout expands Series A
Since merging with the public investment firm BACIT two-plus years ago, Syncona has made steady headway in the cell and gene therapy space: It watched Autolus bag an $150M IPO, jumped into a $116 million round for Freeline and celebrated the $800 million sale of Nightstar, all the while grooming its portfolio of startups in which it typically holds a majority stake.
Now the London-based VC firm — once an independent subsidiary of the Wellcome Trust — is unveiling its next big act, squarely focused on engineering regulatory T cells.
Quell Therapeutics is launching with £35 million ($44.6 million) in Series A cash, the majority of which came from Syncona with $1 million attributed to UCL Technology Fund. Syncona’s stake registers at 69.3%.
Syncona began setting up what it envisions to be a global leader in the emerging Treg cell field back in late 2017. They managed to enlist six researchers from King’s College London, University College London and Germany’s Hannover Medical School who combine expertise in clinical trials, regulatory T cell biology and gene engineering. The founders remain unnamed but an online listing suggests that Alberto Sanchez-Fueyo, Giovanna Lombardi and Marc Martinez-Llordella at King’s as well as UCL’s Hans Strauss are involved.
With IP from King’s and UCL, Quell is taking advantage of Treg cells’ ability to downregulate the immune system and exploring treatments for solid organ transplant rejection, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. It is the 10th life science company founded by Syncona according to Martin Murphy, Syncona’s chief executive and the new biotech’s chairman.
Also announcing news is Storm Therapeutics — a spinout of the University of Cambridge founded in 2015 to translate Tony Kouzarides and Eric Miska’s discovery on RNA modifying enzymes. The company’s new investor Seroba Life Sciences has helped bring its total Series A haul to £30 million ($38.4 million), on a day bubbling with action for the UK biotech sector. The buzz builds on a sunny 2018, when venture dollars gushed into the industry at a record-breaking pace.
Cambridge Innovation Capital, M Ventures, Pfizer Ventures, Taiho Ventures and IP Group are all on board for drug discovery work in oncology and beyond.
But the action is not limited to the Golden Triangle. Rinri Therapeutics, a biotech spun out of the University of Sheffield, has secured £1.4 million ($1.78 million) to explore a cell-based therapy to restore hearing. Marcelo Rivolta came up with the tech to potentially reverse neuropathic sensorineural hearing loss based on years of sensory stem cell research. Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, UCB Ventures and BioCity are backing the operation, which will now be led by CEO Simon Chandler.