Carisma's CAR-M steals spotlight among 42 bidders to reverse merge with Sesen Bio
Sesen Bio’s decade-plus journey is over after failing to secure a bladder cancer drug approval and carve its own path for IL-6 antibodies. The Cambridge, MA company’s spot on Nasdaq will serve as the new home for Carisma Therapeutics, which is attempting to usher in a new CAR cell therapy in the world of macrophages and monocytes.
The two are executing an all-stock reverse merger, with the future resting solely on Carisma’s lineup of therapies, including a Phase I asset that had some limited data presented at ASCO in June. The Philadelphia startup will begin trading under the aptly symboled ticker $CARM in three to four months, the companies said Wednesday morning.
Carisma beat out 41 other bidders, Sesen CEO and president Thomas Cannell said in a statement, noting the merger partner “has the science and the unwavering patient focus required” to better the lives of cancer patients. The Penn-founded startup has also lined up its own investors to bankroll the new Carisma, with $30 million from AbbVie, Merck’s therapeutics VC arm, Penn Medicine and a host of other backers.
In all, Carisma will have $180 million to bring multiple therapies to clinical readouts and keep the lights on through 2024, the companies said. The first program, CT-0508, entails going after advanced HER2+ solid tumors with a CAR macrophage cell therapy. Novartis is picking up the tech to help manufacture the clinical asset.
Next in line is a HER2 CAR monocyte, which CSO and co-founder Michael Klichinsky previously characterized as the precursor to the macrophage. And there’s the in vivo cancer cell therapy pact with Moderna, which included $45 million upfront.
Carisma is taking over the stock listing of an embattled Sesen, which has been in rough waters since before the bear market. Sesen paused the development of its bladder cancer drug in July, after a 2021 FDA rejection and multiple meetings thereafter, and slashed its workforce. The company also fully offloaded its IL-6 antibodies to Roche for $40 million upfront and $30 million more on the line.
Sesen Bio stockholders will own about 41.7% of the merged company, and Carisma stockholders will get the remaining 58.3%. Carisma will remain in Philadelphia and keep CEO and president Steven Kelly at the helm.