At an 'inflection point': GentiBio reels in $157M ahead of what CEO Adel Nada sees as a Treg boom
GentiBio CEO Adel Nada says regulatory T cells (or Tregs) are now where CAR-Ts were at the beginning of the last decade — at an inflection point. With a handful of drugmakers zeroing in on the protective class of immune cells, Nada says big developments are coming. And the proof, he says, is in his company’s latest megaround.
Nada unveiled a $157 million Series A round on Wednesday morning from some big-name backers like the Novartis Venture Fund and RA Capital Management. With a raise like that, it’s hard to imagine that a public debut is too far down the road for GentiBio.
When asked, Nada responded: “We are an engineered cell therapy company…We’re very, very ambitious, and we will have to find ways to secure the capital that we need, and we’re confident we’ll be able to do that either privately or in the public markets.”
Treg cells police the immune system, recognizing the body’s own proteins and telling other immune cells not to attack when they see cells studded with those receptors. In some diseases, like autoimmune disorders, that system goes awry, and the immune system attacks healthy cells.
GentiBio’s looking to restore immune intolerance with engineered Tregs. But unlike other drugmakers that are trying to isolate or target a patient’s own Tregs, GentiBio plans to collect another type of cell from patients — including CD4+ immune cells, or so-called helper T cells — and then reprogram them into specialized Tregs.
“Endogenous Tregs are a rare population that are difficult to isolate from peripheral blood,” Nada said. “By being able to work with a much more abundant cell population, such as CD4s for example, we’re able to overcome that rarity in a scalable way.”
The company’s technology stems from the work of David Rawlings and Andy Scharenberg at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. Its other co-founders hail from the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), and the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute (MIGAL).
While Nada has plans to tackle a variety of autoimmune, alloimmune, autoinflammatory and allergic diseases, the primary focus is on type 1 diabetes, where the team is aiming to eliminate or reduce patients’ dependence on insulin. Scientists believe the engineered Tregs could be viable for up to six years, Nada said, meaning there’s potential for a “one and done” therapeutic.
The team is currently selecting a candidate for that program, and will use the Series A funds to push it into the clinic, with IND-enabling studies expected to launch by the end of this year.
Matrix Capital Management led GentiBio’s Series A round, with Avidity Partners, the JDRF T1D Fund, OrbiMed, RA Capital Management, Novartis Venture Fund, and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute chiming in. Add in the company’s $20 million seed round from last summer, and its raise is now up to $177 million.
Drugmakers big and small are now turning their attention to Tregs, including Merck, which put down $1.85 billion in February to acquire Pandion Pharmaceuticals and its pipeline of drugs targeting Tregs for autoimmune conditions. TRexBio recently emerged from stealth with a $59 million Series A and backing from Big Pharma giants Eli Lilly, J&J and Pfizer to map Tregs in human tissue. And Treg-focused Abata Therapeutics launched in June with $95 million and its sights set on multiple sclerosis.
Just last week, Jeff Bluestone took the wraps off a $265 million B round to target engineered Treg cell therapies against difficult diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. His company, Sonoma Biotherapeutics, has raised $335 million in two years’ time.
“I think the momentum, and the passion that we’re experiencing right now in Treg therapeutics, across the board, (at) different companies, different leagues of investors… really positions the field to advance to the next inflection point,” Nada said. “We’re very excited about being part of this, being at the forefront of this.”