CAR macrophage tu­mor tech cre­at­ed by UPenn star sci­en­tists gets $53M

A cou­ple of star sci­en­tists at UPenn just got fi­nan­cial back­ing from Ab­b­Vie and oth­er in­vestors to come at sol­id tu­mors in an un­usu­al way: re-en­gi­neer­ing macrophages to eat up can­cer cells.

The Philadel­phia-based com­pa­ny was first chris­tened “Car­ma Ther­a­peu­tics” when it launched last year, but thanks to pesky trade­mark con­flicts its step­ping out to­day with a new moniker: Caris­ma Ther­a­peu­tics. And the new name comes with $53 mil­lion in a Se­ries A round led by Ab­b­Vie Ven­tures and Health­Cap.

Saar Gill

Loaded with ca­chet among can­cer re­searchers, the com­pa­ny’s found­ing team in­cludes Saar Gill, a ris­ing ex­pert in CAR-T cells and an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor at Penn’s Abram­son Can­cer Cen­ter. But Caris­ma’s CEO Steven Kel­ly tells me the com­pa­ny’s tech plat­form was large­ly built on PhD can­di­date Michael Klichin­sky’s the­sis. Klichin­sky, who co-found­ed Caris­ma, count­ed both Gill and Penn’s can­cer lu­mi­nary Carl June as his ad­vi­sors. And the com­pa­ny man­aged to bring June, who launched his own can­cer start­up Tmu­ni­ty ear­li­er this year, on­to its sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board.

Caris­ma is work­ing in a very dif­fer­ent space than Tmu­ni­ty, Kel­ly said, but their goal is com­mon enough: get ther­a­peu­tics in­to sol­id tu­mors.

Steven Kel­ly

“CAR-T has pro­found re­sults in hema­to­log­i­cal ma­lig­nan­cy, but it has a dif­fi­cult time reach­ing the site of the tu­mor,” Kel­ly said. “If it does reach the tu­mor site, it’s met with an im­muno­sup­pres­sive en­vi­ron­ment.”

This is not the case for macrophages. These blob­by-look­ing phago­cyt­ic cells are the Pac­man of the body, sleuthing blood and tis­sue, seek­ing out pro­teins or cells that need to be nixed. They in­fil­trate tis­sue and hang out there, de­vour­ing cells as need­ed. Since these cells have no trou­ble reach­ing the tu­mor site, Caris­ma is hop­ing to har­vest them, re-en­gi­neer them with CAR tar­get­ing tech, and de­liv­er them back to the pa­tient.

“We’ve demon­strat­ed that these cells will traf­fic to the site of the tu­mor,” Kel­ly said. “In fact, half the cells there are macrophages.”

With the com­pa­ny’s new pro­ceeds, Caris­ma will take its tech through pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, IND, and en­ter Phase I test­ing by 2019, Kel­ly said. The ex­cess funds will go to­wards build­ing a pipeline of on­col­o­gy drugs and ex­plor­ing oth­er ar­eas pro­tein degra­da­tion might be use­ful. Plus, they’re 5-per­son team must ex­pand. They’re hunt­ing for a new CSO and CMO, and plan to hire 20 FTEs over the next 12 months.

Im­age: Michael Klichin­sky (CARIS­MA)

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Hill­house re­casts spot­light on Chi­na's biotech scene with $160M round for Shang­hai-based an­ti­body mak­er

Almost two years after first buying into Genor Biopharma’s pipeline of cancer and autoimmune therapies, Hillhouse Capital has led a $160 million cash injection to push the late-stage assets over the finish line while continuing to fund both internal R&D and dealmaking.

The Series B has landed right around the time Genor would have listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, according to plans reported by Bloomberg late last year. Insiders had said that the company was looking to raise about $200 million.

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Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: searching the pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Mark Genovese (Stanford via Twitter)

Gilead woos fil­go­tinib clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Stan­ford to lead the charge on NASH, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases

With an FDA OK for the use of filgotinib in rheumatoid arthritis expected to drop any day now, Gilead has recruited a new leader from academia to lead its foray into inflammatory diseases.

Mark Genovese — a longtime Stanford professor and most recently the clinical chief in the division of immunology and rheumatology — was the principal investigator in FINCH 2, one of three studies that supported Gilead’s NDA filing. In his new role as SVP, inflammation, he will oversee the clinical development of the entire portfolio.

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Stephen Isaacs, Aduro president and CEO (Aduro)

Once a high fly­er, a stag­ger­ing Aduro is auc­tion­ing off most of the pipeline as CEO Stephen Isaacs hands off the shell to new own­ers

After a drumbeat of failure, setbacks and reorganizations over the last few years, Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs is handing over his largely gutted-out shell of a public company to another biotech company and putting up some questionable assets in a going-out-of-business sale.

Isaacs —who forged a string of high-profile Big Pharma deals along the way — has wrapped a 13-year run at the biotech with one program for kidney disease going to the new owners at Chinook Therapeutics. A host of once-heralded assets like their STING agonist program partnered with Novartis (which dumped their work on ADU-S100 after looking over weak clinical results), the Lilly-allied cGAS-STING inhibitor program and the anti-CD27 program out-licensed to Merck will all be posted for auction under a strategic review process.

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Fangliang Zhang (Imaginechina via AP Images)

The big mon­ey: Poised to make drug R&D his­to­ry, a Chi­na biotech un­veils uni­corn rac­ing am­bi­tions in a bid to raise $350M-plus on Nas­daq

Almost exactly three years after Shanghai-based Legend came out of nowhere to steal the show at ASCO with jaw-dropping data on their BCMA-targeted CAR-T for multiple myeloma, the little player with Big Pharma connections is taking a giant step toward making it big on Wall Street. And this time they want to seal the deal on a global rep after staking out a unicorn valuation in what’s turned out to be a bull market for biotech IPOs — in the middle of a pandemic.

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IPOs abound in the time of coro­n­avirus, as For­ma Ther­a­peu­tics pen­cils in $150M Nas­daq de­but

The IPO engine is thriving, never mind the rampage of the coronavirus crisis on R&D timelines.

On Friday, along with synthetic lethality-focused biotech Repare Therapeutics, another Bristol Myers partner Forma Therapeutics also unveiled its plans to vault on to the Nasdaq — penciling in a target of $150 million.

The Watertown, Massachusetts-based company — which poached senior Genentech executive Frank Lee to take over the reins last year after more than a decade under founder Steve Tregay — raised a plump $100 million late last year, while shepherding its sickle cell disease (SCD) drug through an early-stage trial.

Ver­sant-backed, Bris­tol My­ers-stamped Re­pare Ther­a­peu­tics guns for $100M IPO

With a Bristol Myers Squibb endorsement in tow, Versant-backed cancer drug developer Repare Therapeutics has set its sights on a Nasdaq debut.

On Friday, the Montreal-based company with operations in Cambridge, Massachusetts that is yet to enter the clinic, unveiled plans for a $100 million IPO, banking on its “synthetic lethality” platform.

The basic idea is to target the genetic basis of tumors, a common idea across precision oncology medicines. But instead of targeting the perpetrator mutation directly, the compound is designed to go after the other gene in the gene pair. The rationale is based on the decades-old genetic principle that indicates two mutations are lethal only when combined together.