Drug Development

Biotech vet MacKay grabs a $25M A round to back a gene therapy upstart

Geoff McKay

Geoff McKay

After completing an 11-year stint as CEO of Organogenesis, Geoff MacKay gathered a small, experienced team together and began a global search for new gene therapies at AvroBio. Earlier this year, they landed seed financing from Atlas Venture after zeroing in on the work of a pair of scientists in Toronto. And today he landed a $25 million A round to get his two lead programs into the clinic later this year.

MacKay believes that this is exactly the right time to get into gene therapy, after pioneers like Bluebird have established how the technology can work safely. And he’s putting that to the test with a new gene therapy aimed at rare cases of Fabry disease.

“We like that the concept has been validated,” says the biotech vet, who also expects to be able to move quickly now that the A round is in place. MacKay says that if all goes according to plan, the first round of safety and efficacy data from small studies should show up next year. But he’s not trying to rush things.

For the Fabry program, which will look to substitute enzyme replacement therapies with a once-and-done curative treatment, investigators are using an ex vivo approach: extracting CD34+ hematopoetic stem cells from patients and then using a lentiviral vector to reengineer them to express the normal gene before infusing them back into the patient.

AvroBio also has an entry in the fast-growing immunotherapy arena for acute myeloid leukemia. It’s extracting cancer cells and engineering them to express IL-12 in order to spur a durable T cell assault on the cancer.

“IL-12 not a new concept or cytokine,” says the CEO. “It’s been studied for 20 years.” It’s also been too toxic to use systemically, so AvroBio is using its technology to get right into the tumor microenvironment, where it can do all the damage it can after capturing all the neoantigens in the cancer cell.

The AvroBio team is working with two scientific co-founders, Jeffrey Medin, who until recently was a professor at the University of Toronto along with Christopher Paige. AvroBio is based in Cambridge, home turf to MacKay, with a facility in Toronto where it can remain close to its scientific home.

Atlas Venture, Clarus and SV Life Sciences co-led the A-round, contributing their partners to the board. Bruce Booth at Atlas is signing on as chairman while Scott Requadt, a managing director at Clarus, and Josh Resnick at SV Life Sciences join the board.

Right now, the team consists of a core group of 8, which MacKay says is set to grow.

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