Vipin Suri, Catamaran Bio CSO

Cata­ma­ran Bio sails in­to the CAR-NK wa­ters with a $42M launch round

Cata­ma­ran Bio’s found­ing mem­bers de­cid­ed to jump in­to the CAR-NK game last De­cem­ber over drinks at a trendy bar in Boston.

They were sit­ting around a ta­ble, dis­cussing an MD An­der­son study which pro­vid­ed some of the first clin­i­cal proof that nat­ur­al killer (NK) cells can be reengi­neered to at­tack tu­mors, much like CAR-T ther­a­pies. It was a “long and live­ly” dis­cus­sion, COO Mark Boshar re­calls. And by the time it was over, they had a start­ing point to launch a com­pa­ny.

“The ‘ide­al’ cell ther­a­py ap­proach would come from a holis­tic ap­proach — not a sin­gle linch­pin tech­nol­o­gy — in or­der to make progress be­yond the lim­i­ta­tions of ear­ly gen­er­a­tion prod­ucts,” Boshar wrote in a state­ment.

On Mon­day, Cata­ma­ran Bio emerged from stealth with $42 mil­lion in Se­ries A and seed fund­ing to de­vel­op what Boshar called the “holy grail” of cell ther­a­pies: off-the-shelf CAR-NK drugs made with donor cells to treat sol­id tu­mors.

Cata­ma­ran’s ther­a­pies will do two key things: at­tack sol­id tu­mor cells and the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment, which sur­rounds the cells like a force field, CSO Vipin Suri told End­points News. In the hopes of get­ting around the cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing bot­tle­neck, the biotech is us­ing a non-vi­ral trans­po­son sys­tem to de­liv­er the ge­net­ic pay­loads, rather than vi­ral vec­tors.

Un­like CAR-T treat­ments — which re­quire the long and cost­ly process of draw­ing a pa­tient’s own cells, treat­ing them and rein­ject­ing them — CAR-NK ther­a­pies can be made with donor cells. That’s be­cause donor T cells would like­ly trig­ger graft-ver­sus-host dis­ease, while for­eign NK cells don’t. The end goal is a cell ther­a­py that doesn’t look like a trip to the hos­pi­tal, Suri said.

“The idea is very much to have an off-the-shelf ther­a­py such that … when a physi­cian de­ter­mines that a pa­tient can ben­e­fit from cell ther­a­py, it is avail­able to be ad­min­is­tered as a ther­a­py right then, or short­ly there­after,” he told End­points News. 

Cata­ma­ran cur­rent­ly has two pro­grams, dubbed the TAIL­WIND Plat­form, which Suri ex­pects to en­ter the clin­ic in the next few years. De­vel­op­ment will be fund­ed by the Se­ries A, which was led by Sofinno­va Part­ners and Light­stone Ven­tures, with help from found­ing in­vestor SV Health In­vestors, as well as Take­da Ven­tures and Astel­las Ven­ture Man­age­ment.

The CAR-NK field is abound with new play­ers, led by MD An­der­son and Take­da, who said they’re look­ing to ini­ti­ate a piv­otal tri­al next year. Then there’s J&J-backed Fate Ther­a­peu­tics, which was cleared for its first CAR-NK clin­i­cal tri­al in Sep­tem­ber; Nkar­ta re­cent­ly dosed the first par­tic­i­pant in a clin­i­cal tri­al, and says a sec­ond IND is com­ing in Q1 of 2021; and ONK Ther­a­peu­tics, which said in Oc­to­ber that it’s about two years out from an IND.

“All these com­pa­nies have great teams, but we re­al­ly be­lieve that the team that Kevin (Po­jasek), Mark and Vipin put to­geth­er is a tru­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed com­pa­ny,” SV Health man­ag­ing part­ner Houman Ashrafi­an told End­points

Houman Ashrafi­an

The team of sci­en­tif­ic founders in­cludes George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor Cather­ine Bol­lard, who’s di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Can­cer Im­munol­o­gy Re­search at the Chil­dren’s Na­tion­al Re­search In­sti­tute, and Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Bran­den Mo­ri­ar­i­ty, who holds patents in key ar­eas, in­clud­ing for tech­nolo­gies us­ing DNA trans­po­son sys­tems. There’s al­so CMO Chris Car­pen­ter, who pre­vi­ous­ly served as CMO of Ru­bius Ther­a­peu­tics af­ter spend­ing time at GSK and Mer­ck, and se­nior VP of re­search Ce­leste Richard­son, who hails from Ob­sid­i­an Ther­a­peu­tics and No­var­tis.

“Cata­ma­ran to us sym­bol­izes the jour­ney. Our jour­ney is to broad­en the reach of cell ther­a­py for pa­tients in more in­di­ca­tions,” Suri said.

This sto­ry has been up­dat­ed to clar­i­fy that Nkar­ta has re­cent­ly dosed the first pa­tient in its clin­i­cal tri­al.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

Pfiz­er, Sarep­ta and two oth­ers sug­gest Duchenne drug safe­ty is­sues tied to "class ef­fect"

Since the first experimental Duchenne gene therapy programs came about, the space has proven rife with safety issues and patient deaths in clinical trials. Pfizer and three biotechs now think they’ve found a reason why.

The four companies suggested there may be a “class effect” causing the adverse events in Duchenne gene therapies, they wrote in a new study. They specifically highlighted how side effects in five patients across three trials, who all showed muscle weakness with cardiac involvement, were “strikingly similar.”

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

Tom Anderson, SwanBio CEO

Af­ter lay­ing off a fourth of its staff, gene ther­a­py start­up Swan­Bio sees fresh fi­nanc­ing as it heads to­wards the clin­ic

Just a few short weeks after SwanBio laid off a quarter of its 60-person workforce, it has returned with $56 million in new financing.

The layoffs ensued as the gene therapy biotech was unable to get new financing in the first quarter of the year when its investors backed out, Endpoints News had learned, but it appears not all the investors walked out. Notably, one of SwanBio’s returning investors, Syncona, also owns 75% of the company. Its other lead investor this round, Mass General Brigham Ventures, was also a founding investor.

Peter Marks (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Even FDA's Pe­ter Marks is wor­ried about the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­i­ty of gene and cell ther­a­pies

When bluebird bio’s gene therapy to treat beta thalassemia won European approval in 2019, the nearly $2 million per patient price tag for the potential cure seemed like a surmountable hurdle.

Fast forward two years later, and bluebird has withdrawn Zynteglo, the beta thal drug, along with the rest of its gene therapy portfolio from Europe, which the company said is generally unwilling to pay a fair price for the treatment.

Martin Shkreli (Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch/IPX)

In­fa­mous biotech ex­ec Mar­tin Shkre­li gets out of prison, hits the street

Martin Shkreli, the infamous biotech CEO who made headlines for his jeering assault on a legion of critics in and out of Congress, is back on the streets after 4 years inside a federal penitentiary.

Shkreli’s attorney put out a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the “pharma bro” had been transferred to a halfway house in New York with a few more months to go under federal custody, slated to end September 14. Attorney Benjamin Brafman acknowledged the release and vowed that he and Shkreli are keeping quiet.

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De­spite fed­er­al ef­forts to di­ver­si­fy clin­i­cal tri­als, progress re­mains 'stag­nan­t' — re­port

While calls to diversify clinical trials have grown louder in recent years — gaining support from federal agencies such as the FDA and NIH — progress has largely stalled, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Swaths of patients in racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as LGBTQIA+, pregnant and older adult populations continue to be left out of clinical trials. While some advances have been made in the last 30 years — women now account for roughly half of clinical trial participants — growth in other areas remains stagnant, according to the report, which was mandated by Congress and sponsored by the NIH.

Paul Chaplin, Bavarian Nordic president and CEO

Bavar­i­an Nordic se­cures BAR­DA con­tract for small­pox vac­cine

It seems that smallpox vaccination production is weighing on the mind of the US government. And manufacturer Bavarian Nordic is the latest company to benefit.

Just a few days after Emergent, a company that has made government contracts its lifeblood, acquired the exclusive rights to Tembexa from Chimerix, with a $225 million cash payment and an expected BARDA contract, the agency has offered a contract for smallpox vaccine production.

Frank Pallone (D-NJ), House Energy and Commerce Committee chair (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP Images)

House com­mit­tee unan­i­mous­ly ad­vances FDA user fee leg­is­la­tion with ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval tweaks

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday offered a rare show of bipartisan support for a bill that would provide the FDA with user fees for the next five years.

The committee voted 55-0 to advance the quinquennial user fee bill to the full House floor, which if approved, will allow the FDA to use biopharma funds to hire new reviewers, and hit new marks as outlined in the user fee deals that the FDA and biopharma companies forged over the past several years.